October 4th: The Andy Griffith Show

Shazam!

Here's the deal - we were programmed to go to Long Island, circa 1984 to check in with Ricky Stratton and the gang from Silver Spoons, but it seems like we're still working out some issues with our time travel, and also that episode cannot be found on the internet. As it is, something about the Jack Dodson/Howard Sprague appearance in that Mr. Belvedere episode seems to have influenced our movements, because the world is now black and white and shot on film. What the- Oh, I see. It's just...

The Andy Griffith Show

Nothing says old-timey like this show. From the fins on the cars, to the audience that clings to it like it's an actual portal to the mid-20th Century, I can't imagine "the kids today" understanding what they're seeing. You have a better chance of explaining ancient irrigation systems predicated on the use of an Archimedes screw than understanding the subtle nuances of a lovable town drunk (Otis! Again!), and the notion of having to go all the way to Mt. Pilot to take in a picture show with your long-time ladyfriend whose deal you cannot seal until your reunion TV movie some 20+ years later.

Shit, we're talking an opening credit sequence spent walking in the woods (walking!) and carrying fishing poles to the tune of someone whistling. That's right, this thing is so old that it pre-dates actual instruments.

Not that the comedy doesn't hold up - this low-key drive down the sleepy dirt roads of Mayberry was fueled by the power of the Desilu vision, and all the comedy chops that entailed. It was guided by the subversive hand hidden within the good ol' boy charms of Ben Matlock, Esquire himself. Yep, even back in the day, the old man was still kind of old. Or "Ol'" if you will.

Of course, this oldness was on purpose, so picture a viewing audience of the 1960s doing the same clinging-to-the-portal, in search of the far-easier to understand 1930s. For the dustbowl did not present the same pants-stirring questions that Elvis' hips did, just as the depressed Hooverville unemployees never had to endure the high-cut skirts and Hammond B-3 organs of lounge-sleaze that were quietly secreting themselves into the punchbowl of every backyard barbecue. Indeed, the only organ appropriate for meditating on to these foot-dragging reluctos was the one found in church, where it was carefully monitored by only the most pious of God's janitors.

Whatever the reason, be it the quality jokes or the nostalgia for a time before Barney Fife had a Twitter account, no tour through TV Land would be complete without a trip to the Taylor's house (Sheriff-Taylor, not Toolman-Taylor... yet), after which, we'll stop by Otis' place - I heard he's handing out travel-sized bottles of gin. Hooray!

Space: Mayberry, NC
Time: October 7th, 1963
Episode: "The Haunted House" Season 4, Episode 3

To put it out on Front Street, this is not an "official" Halloween episode of the kind we've been spoiled with on our journey thus far (minus the debacle in San Francisco). But hey, it's the 60s and television is still in its relative infancy, and this ep. has some actual spook-related things going on, so we'll let it slide.

We begin, as all great stories must, with Ron Howard stalking the streets with a baseball bat.

He and his buddy, Arnold (easily destined to become Opie's personal Lumpy Rutherford), are engaged in a sort of primordial Sabrmetric analysis concerning Mickey Mantle's odds of hitting a wrist-bending "dipsy-doodle" pitch, which, while fun to say, does not exactly strike fear into one's heart the way mention of, say, Mariano Rivera's cutter or Carl Hubbel's screwball does.

The statistical analysis will have to wait several decades before Jay Jaffe or Ben Lindbergh can get their accountant-paws on it, and the point becomes roundly moot as little Ronnie Howard takes a respectable swing and smashes the pitch in question through one of the windows of what we are told is "the Ol' Rimshaw House." Yeah, you read this scenario correctly, it's allegedly haunted by the ghost of Ol' Man Rimshaw (makes sense), who once "put chains on his hired-man and done away with him with an ax!"

To re-quote the normally-unflappable Gomer Pyle, "Shazam!" (pronounced correctly as three syllables: "sha-zay-um!").

That's right, Gomer's here, along with The Man himself, Deputy Barney Fife, who has roped him into going along to the Ol' Rimshaw House to retrieve the missing baseball, having himself been roped into doing so by Sheriff Andy, who was, in his own way, roped into dealing with the situation by his son, Apollo 13 director Ron Howard.

This seems like quite a lot of rope for a half-hour situation comedy, but it was not nearly enough to satisfy your typical 1960s audience, because we're also treated to the rare gift of Don Knotts playing with a jump-rope.

Drink it in, world - this is the power of television at it's finest.

Anywho, after a lot of back-and-forth, Andy, who has been dealing with the matter of Otis and his mysterious moonshine, goes along with Barn' and Gomer to check out what the hell is going on at the local haunted house.

As the story goes, this was the episode that inspired the Don Knotts masterwork The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and indeed, the interior of the Ol' Scrimshaw House does look like a dry-run for that epicenter of gardening tool-based murders, the Simmons Mansion. We're even treated to the Ol' Oil Portrait With Moving Eyes trick, ripped straight from the playbook of one Mr. Bugs Bunny.

This, plus some moaning and random knocking, sends Barney and Gomer running off with a case of the so-called "squidgets." As it happens, it turns out that the haunting of the haunted Ol' Rimshot House is actually just Otis and his moonshining buddy "Big" Jack Anderson, as played by Nestor Paiva, whom you will, of course, recognize as the sweat-soaked captain of the boat searching for the infamous Gill Man in the beginning of Revenge of the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Of course.

They suspect they've gotten away with their unnecessary post-Prohibition bootlegging, carefully going over every element of the operation with all the volume and gusto of SPECTRE villains, until they find themselves faced with the very ax that started this whole darned situation, all those (I assume) years ago.

It levitates with a combination of its own accord and Andy using some fishing line, which he must be constitutionally-obligated to have on his person at all times. This freaks them out and the Andy Taylor Way of playing mind-games on alcoholics wins over the power of crippling addiction. Behold, a small gallery of soggy faces that only their mothers could possibly (though improbably) love:

In conclusion, if you're into watching husky guys do things, this is the place for you. For Mayberry represents a simpler, huskier time, when grown men jumped rope with nary a care, and the only thing we needed to fear was fear itself, and a sweaty man with a face like a freshly sat-in beanbag chair. Horror indeed.