Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Return to Mayberry

Some reunions should never happen.

I came to that conclusion when my high school class held its first reunion — five years after graduation.

I thought it was too soon for a reunion. Those of us who had gone to college were just barely out of school at that point.

On this day 25 years ago, most of the surviving members of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show appeared in a much–anticipated reunion movie on a Sunday night in mid–April of 1986 — and proved, beyond any doubt, that some reunions should never take place — no matter how much time has gone by.

In reality, the show had been off the air for about 18 years. In the late 1960s, when Griffith decided he had had enough, the show continued for a few years as Mayberry R.F.D., but it wasn't really the same.

And the passage of time, of course, changes everything. By 1986, some of the cast members were deceased, which is an inevitable development that comes to some casts sooner than others. Thus, regulars like Floyd and Clara and Emmett the Fix–It Guy weren't around. I'm not sure if they were even mentioned in the reunion movie.

Some of the cast members were still living — but chose, for one reason or another, not to participate. Frances Bavier, the actress who played Aunt Bee, was ailing (and, in fact, passed away a few years later). Reportedly, she did consider doing a kind of voiceover in a scene in which Andy visited Aunt Bee's grave, but my understanding is that another actress delivered the lines.

The actress who played Ellie Walker and the actor who played Warren, the deputy who replaced Barney Fife, chose not to participate in the film. In hindsight, it might have been hard to work them in to the story gracefully.

But, as it was, it was hard to work in some of the other characters gracefully — or, at least, consistently with the viewers' memories.

Gomer Pyle, for example, had starred in his own TV series in the late 1960s — and his character had a steady girlfriend, LuAnn, most of the time that program was on the air. But in the Mayberry reunion, Gomer was back in Mayberry — and still a bachelor. No mention was made of LuAnn that I can recall.

Speaking of relationships, Barney and his long–term girlfriend, Thelma Lou, got back together in the reunion movie, even though devotees of the series had known for 20 years that Thelma Lou had married someone else and left Mayberry after Barney left the series. Consequently, when Barney and Thelma Lou tied the knot in the reunion movie, Andy had to mention that Thelma Lou's first marriage failed — supposedly for continuity's sake but it was really for propriety's.

Perhaps the most egregious change from the TV series to the reunion movie occurred with Otis the town drunk. In the final years of The Andy Griffith Show, the sponsors apparently grew more and more nervous about what appeared to be jokes about alcoholism, and Otis was not a character in any of the plots in the last 1½ years the program was on the air.

But Otis was back for the reunion — and drinking was no longer an issue. Otis, now a reformed drinker, may have been a pioneer in shifting public attention to childhood obesity in that movie. He was gainfully employed — as Mayberry's ice cream man.

It may have been a good excuse to get the gang together one more time — and many of the cast members have passed away in the quarter century since the film aired — but that's about all it was. There wasn't anything particularly memorable about the plot.

In fact, for a TV movie that reunited the cast of a show with a whole bunch of memorable catchphrases, the dialogue was rather bland.

Without a drunk Otis to silence, for example, Barney couldn't admonish him: "Pipe down, Otis. Will you just pipe down?"

I guess they did the best they could with the convoluted plot.

And, as implausible as the story was, I must admit that it was nice to see the gang together one more time.