The Andy Griffith Show attempted to compensate for the loss of co-star Don Knotts in a variety of ways, but none were entirely successful. Most notably, the series began airing in color, a selling point in 1965 (more location shooting showcased the color of the "local" greenery). Writers experimented with a number of different foils for Griffith's Andy Taylor. Increased screen time went to Andy's son Opie (director Ron Howard, in his energetic "Ronny Howard" days), everybody's favorite nattering matron Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), Andy's schoolteaching sweetheart Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear), and Goober Pyle (George Lindsey), who was already pulling extra weight since the departure of Jim Nabors to Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C..
But the failed experiment of the sixth season was the addition of Jack Burns as Deputy Warren Ferguson, Floyd's high-strung nephew ("Huh?! Huh?! Huh?!"). Most of the overzealous Deputy Warren's situations could have been written for Knotts' Deputy Barney Fife—the inevitable comparisons with Knotts doomed Burns, who managed only a spotty eleven of thirty sixth season episodes before disappearing for good without so much as an explanation. Like Knotts, Burns brought an excess of energy to his character, but the ineffable comic likeability of Knotts just wasn't there with Burns, whose claims to comedy history were yet to come, as head writer for the Muppets and one of the brawlers in the infamous, staged Andy Kaufman fracas on NBC's Fridays.
The Andy Griffith Show's sixth season had several episodes in the same vein as earlier winners. Episodes like "Opie's Job," in which Opie learned the value and sacrifice of being a working man, and "A Man's Best Friend," about the hurtfulness of pranks recall the classic "Opie the Bird Man." "Look Paw, I'm Dancing" humorously compared father-and-son neuroses about getting on the dance floor, and the episode "The Battle of Mayberry"—about the inconvenience of truth when Opie writes a history essay—may have been one inspiration for the classic Simpsons episode "Lisa the Iconoclast." These tales of a Southern boy learning from his father, and vice versa, were obviously meant to play the same chords as To Kill a Mockingbird, with Andy in the Atticus Finch mold, and they're among the series' most memorable and satisfying outings.
If Griffith remained a likeable anchor for his own show by gracefully adding a bit more humorous exasperation to his repertoire, the writers began reaching more frequently to play small-town Mayberry, North Carolina against hip elements. A multi-episode arc ("Off to Hollywood," "The Taylors in Hollywood," "The Hollywood Party," and "Aunt Bee on TV") concerned the Taylors' visit to Hollywood to witness the filming of a movie based on Andy's life ("Sheriff Without a Gun"). Later in the season, square Aunt Bee becomes the oblivious butt of a joke as "The Foster Lady" in furniture-polish commercials, then succeeds in pitching a song to an Elvis-ish rocker in "A Singer in Town."
The show was better off showcasing its extended family of characters. In "Malcolm at the Crossroads," charming Englishman Malcolm Merriweather (Bernard Fox of Titanic) made his third and final appearance, tangling with nutty hillbilly Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris, in his fifth and final series appearance as Ernest). Some episodes wandered into the treacherous terrain of pre-PC humor. "Otis, The Artist," for example, includes Andy's easy judgement that harmless drunks are best left alone, and Otis' discovery that he's a better artist when sloshed. In "Goober's Replacement," Andy disturbingly uses reverse psychology to convince Goober's girlfriend that she doesn't really want to pursue a career. (Also keep an eye out for guest stars Charles Ruggles, Gavin McLeod, and pre-M*A*S*H William Christopher and Jamie Farr.)
Fans off-put by jumping sharks can breathe a sigh of relief when Knotts shows up in an Emmy-winning return appearance. "The Return of Barney Fife" finds Barney back in town for two awkward reunions, one a high-school reunion with old falme Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) and one with good ol' "Ange." The following episode, "The Legend of Barney Fife," puts the shakiest gun in the South back into action and allows Knotts the opportunity gracefully (and pointlessly) to pass his torch to Burns. All in all, the sixth season proved there was still life in the now-classic sitcom, though Knotts would be sorely missed.
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