[2 September 2005]
Gomer had us at “Gol-lee.” Season Three of The Andy Griffith Show, now available on DVD, introduced Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), America’s favorite country bumpkin. The series pokes gentle fun at Gomer’s simplicity while celebrating his basic morality.
Gomer’s sincerity offers a rebuke those who might dismiss him as slow-witted. His characteristic bumbling, malapropisms, and mix-ups draw laughs but, as he beams beneath the upturned brim of his cap, he also shows devotion to hometown values (honesty, responsibility, and support of your local community, not to mention God and country). He heartily greets friends and strangers alike, and his tag-line farewell is goofy but endearing: “Lots of luck to you and yours.”
In a typical episode, “Man in a Hurry,” we find Gomer trying to help a big-city visitor, Malcolm Tucker (Robert Emhardt), whose car has broken down. Since it’s Mayberry on a Sunday, everything’s at a standstill (down even from the town’s usual leisurely pace). When Andy (Andy Griffith) takes Tucker to the gas station, filling attendant Gomer pledges to help but proves completely incapable of understanding what’s wrong with the car, much less how to fix it. Everything he does is slower than molasses. Tucker is freaked out by the drawling dummy—and we’re in the land of caricature. Andy tells him Gomer isn’t a mechanic, only working part-time at the station to save up money for college, where he’ll study to be a doctor. Ba bump bump. Ultimately, the joke’s on the city slicker. Gomer may come off like a dolt, but the show implies it’s just because he thinks differently than most folks do.
This episode drives home the point that in its rush to progress, society loses sight of uncomplicated pleasures based in human bonds. Stuck in Mayberry, Tucker goes to Andy’s house, and Andy tries to lure him into partaking in their world. A heart attack waiting to happen, Tucker paces, chomps cigars, and rushes around trying to get his car fixed to make a business meeting in Charlotte the next morning. He growls, “You people are living in another world. This is the 20th century. Don’t you realize that?”
As he goes on about the space age and modern conveniences, we know he’s in for a comeuppance. He’s finally lulled into a self-reflective state by Andy and Barney (Don Knotts) singing the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” on the porch. Gomer’s cousin Goober (George Lindsey) fixes the car but won’t charge Tucker because it’s an “honor” to help. Tucker gives in.
Routinely in The Andy Griffith Show, Andy and his family appear more sophisticated than some of their most rustic friends. Yet the country folk are usually deemed most “authentic.” This dynamic is on full display in “The Darlings Are Coming.” Mountain people who rarely come down from the woods, the Darlings arrive in Mayberry to pick up daughter Charlene’s (Margaret Ann Peterson) fiancé, returning from a tour in the Army. Father Briscoe (a perfectly cast Denver Pyle, later The Dukes of Hazzard‘s Uncle Jesse) steers her and his four sons into town in a beat-up truck. Rebels in overalls, they start breaking city ordinances left and right while seeking a place to stay for the night. Andy finally puts them up in the courthouse, and he ends up dodging the amorous Charlene. She’s on him like white on rice. The rest of the crew throws down some serious bluegrass, which they’re practicing for the wedding. Bluegrass musicians, the Dillards, play the “boys.”
As they perform intermittently throughout the episode, Andy joins in. Country music—like country generosity and country cooking—signifies authenticity and encourages our nostalgia (even if “we,” as individuals or communities, have no such history). Charlene’s fiancé arrives in time for her to remember she’s not in love with Andy.
The Darlings also occasion slapstick comedy when they return in a later episode, “Mountain Wedding.” Here, to deflect a competing suitor for Charlene, Barney whips out the high heels as a bride in drag. But their primary function is to reinforce the series’ folksy themes. Other recurring plotlines in Season Three follow Andy as he looks for love and while Barney helps and hinders him, Aunt Bee as she bakes tons of pies, and Opie (Ron Howard) as he learns standard lessons from dad.
In “Barney Mends a Broken Heart,” he tries to help Andy get over a spat with a girlfriend, first by getting him to talk about it, claiming it will be “therapetic” [sic], then by fixing him up with other women. Woefully, Andy ends up in a fistfight with a jealous boyfriend at a bar. When Andy’s girlfriend stops by the next morning, coos over his black eye, and then makes up with him, Barney claims it all worked out as he planned. As Andy accepts his fate (Barney’s a burr he just can’t shake), the series’ larger point is made: while small town denizens can be irritating, their persistent, even stubborn efforts to help one another are also “therapetic.”