Sunday, May 07, 2017

Playing Deputy

Outside of Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney (Don Knotts) — and perhaps Opie (Ron Howard) — it is hard to imagine anyone in the fictional town of Mayberry with a more intimate knowledge of the jail on the Andy Griffith Show than Otis the town drunk (Hal Smith), who was allowed to effect his own incarceration and release whenever he had too much to drink — which was just about all the time.

That knowledge came in handy in the episode that first aired on this night in 1962, "Deputy Otis."

I have written here before that Andy Griffith's character was the kind of father that everyone would like to have. I could expand that, though, to simply this. He was the kind of everything — father, son, friend, mentor — that everyone would like to have.

He was the kind of law enforcement officer we need at a time when the public's relationship with the police is so poor. Andy Taylor had compassion for the people of his community. When one had a problem, he tried to help in any way he could.

In another episode, Barney observed that a sheriff "is more than just a sheriff" in a small town. "He's a friend. And the people in this town ain't got a better friend than Andy Taylor."

On this night in 1962, Otis was the one with the problem — and Andy was there for him.

During his many stays in the jail, Otis had written several letters to his brother and sister–in–law using courthouse stationery. It was never established whether Otis' brother and sister–in–law jumped to the conclusion on their own or Otis encouraged it with his letters — probably a little of both — but they apparently had the idea that Otis worked for the sheriff.

Now they were on their way to Mayberry for a visit.

When Andy found out about everything, Otis readily confessed that "I know I done wrong, but I figgered what's the harm? I didn't know they were coming here."

Then viewers got a rare insight into Otis' character, what made him tick. Turned out that his brother Ralph had always been held up as an example to him. "Why can't you be more like Ralph?" his parents asked him.

"I've always been the black sheep in my family," Otis told Andy, "and it just felt good changing colors."

Andy decided to help Otis out by making him a temporary deputy while his brother and sister–in–law were in town — a noble gesture although Ralph apparently didn't believe Otis was a deputy. When he went off, supposedly for a walk, after lunch, Otis assumed Ralph was going around trying to find out if Otis really was a deputy.

In fact, though, Ralph was getting drunk — because, like Otis, he was his hometown's town drunk.

And back home, he was allowed to lock himself up in the county jail just as Otis was permitted to do. So he did as he did at home, prompting Otis to tell Ralph how ashamed he was of his brother. And a chastened Ralph pledged to "be respectable — just like you."

Andy and Barney watched in astonishment as this scene played out before them, then Andy said to Barney, "You never know how these things might work out."

That's what made Andy such a great everything. He never hesitated to give someone the benefit of the doubt.