Few television characters have impacted family culture as much as Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), Barney Fife (Don Knotts), Opie (Ron Howard) and the idyllic American town of Mayberry. As town sheriff and widowed father, Andy teaches his son the meaning of family, friendship, and upstanding citizenship in this all-time classic series, now in remastered HD with slick-as-a-whistle special features. Includes every episode from the first season, beautifully restored in high definition, in original night-of-broadcast form with original sponsor openings and closings.
CBS/Paramount's release of 'The Andy Griffith Show: Season 1" on Blu-ray is part of a trio of classic series (the other two being The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy) being released in the coming weeks that the studio is hoping will prove successful on the HD format. While there's little question as to whether 'Andy Griffith' retains its entertainment value (in short, yes it does), the big question for potential buyers is whether CBS/Paramount is dedicated to releasing all eight seasons of 'Andy Griffith' on Blu-ray, or if this is just a test season to see how successful sales are before proceeding. Additionally, the studio is asking a king's ransom for the set -- with a suggested retail price well over $100 (most retailers – including Amazon -- are selling it for significantly less, although still a lot for a single season of a television series).
'The Andy Griffith Show's genesis began when Hollywood producer Sheldon Leonard was looking to create a television vehicle for Andy Griffith, who was interested in doing a series. Leonard used an episode of CBS's 'The Danny Thomas Show' as a 'backdoor pilot' for the series, with Griffith doing a guest starring role as Sheriff Andy Taylor (that episode is included among the bonus features on this release). The show was popular enough with both viewers and the company that would sponsor the show – General Foods – to greenlight it for a series, which would begin its run in the fall of 1960.
The first episode introduces us to single father, Andy Taylor, along with his young son Opie (Ron Howard), their live-in housekeeper Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), and Sheriff Taylor's bumbling deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts), who all live in the small southern town of Mayberry. Fans of the series who haven't watched the show in a while may note a few things different about the first season that changed as the series went along. First and foremost is the way Griffith played the lead character. As the series gets underway, Andy Taylor is the source of most of the comedy, with even Don Knotts playing 'straight man' to him in the first few episodes. However, it became obvious to both the cast and the viewers that it was Knotts, not Griffith, with the real comedy timing, and by the time Season 2 gets underway, it was Griffith playing 'straight man' to not only Knotts, but most of the recurring characters that would pop up in Mayberry.
Also in the first episode, Opie Taylor comes off as kind of a brat. He'll have his up and downs in Season 1 (and the seasons to follow) personality-wise, but he's pretty unlikable when we first meet him and would have becoming annoying had the series continued to depict him as a spoiled child. Another interesting tidbit is the fact that Season 1 refers (several times) to the character Barney Fife as a cousin of Andy Taylor's. Later in the run, the relationship between the two men will change to just being close childhood friends.
'The Andy Griffith Show' was not shot in front of a live studio audience, meaning that all of the laughter one hears during each episode is from a laugh track – or 'canned'. I've never been a huge fan of laugh tracks, but surprisingly it's not quite as annoying here as I thought it might be – perhaps because it's been applied properly and the jokes are actually funny. I keep hoping that studios will one day come up with a method that will allow viewers on these types of releases to choose whether to turn the laugh track on or off, but I guess the laugh track is part of the only existing recordings for these shows, so that's really not a viable option.
This set contains all 32 season one episodes with an option to view them with or without the sponors ads (usually for Post cereal products or Sanka coffee) on each episode. I highly recommend viewing them with the ads, as each episode ends with an added scene that promotes the product, but also mentions the story we just witnessed in some manner (sometimes even adding some additional information about what happened to characters seen in the episode). The other major difference is the end credits, as the ones with the sponsor show footage of Andy and Opie leaving the fishing hole from the opening credits, while the non-sponsor end credits is simply a still of a drawing of that fishing spot (this is the version that was used for syndication).
Yes, 'The Andy Griffith Show' can, at times, be cornier than Kansas and Iowa combined, but there's little doubt about the talent on display here. Both Griffith and Knotts are natural comedic performers and it's almost impossible not to instantly fall in love with their characters. There's an old fashioned Americana quality to this series that is undeniable, which makes these episodes – even after over 50 years – highly watchable and re-watchable.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Andy Griffith Show: Season 1' whistles its way onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase which contains a pair of plastic hubs that hold the four 50GB dual layer discs. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Additionally, the reverse side of the case's slick (seen from inside the keepcase) contains an episode list, which a short description of each, including what disc they appear on. There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the Blu-rays, whose main menu consists of a computer animated "tour" of Mayberry, including clips from the show playing within various items as the screen scrolls from right to left. Menu selections are across the bottom of the screen.
'The Andy Griffith Show' was shot on film in black and white (the series' final three seasons were shot in color) and gets a pretty nice HD update here. While some dirt (usually in the form of an occasional fleck of black or white) still exists on the prints, most of the scenes look quite good and offer a clarity of detail we've never seen in these episodes before (objects and writing in the background of scenes can clearly be made out). The opening and closing credits look the least sharp on most episodes, and transitions from one scene to the next sometimes result in some flickering, a missing frame in the print, or excess dirt on the print. There's also occasionally a scene here or there that doesn't look as good as the others in the episode – but these are few and far between. The optional sponsor ads on each episode also have a much rougher look that the others – and I suspect that these segments did not go through the same painstaking process as the rest of each episode as far as restoration is concerned.
While each episode is sharper than we've ever seen it before, the show still retains the look of film, with a consistent amount of grain in each shot. Black levels throughout are quite good, with clarity and detail present in even the darker sequences (which, to be fair, don't occur very often). Whites are also well-balanced and never look 'blown out'.
Audio is listed on the box cover as mono, but multiple Blu-ray players (both my primary Oppo player as well as several I use on my computer) 'read' this English track as LPCM 2.0. Regardless, identical audio came from both my right and left speakers, so regardless of how your own home theater set-up reads the discs, these are essentially mono in nature.
The audio is, for the most part, crisp and clear and free of any glitches. However, when it comes to the sponsor segments on the end of each episode, a noticeable difference in the track takes place – as the audio becomes much 'muddier' in nature. Again, like with the video, it appears that CBS/Paramount didn't make an effort to restore those sponsor clips the way they did the rest of the episode, even though each sponsor segment is unique to the episode and always makes a reference to the story that just occurred.
Note: Although the box cover indicates that original sponsor ads are available on 'select episodes', there's actually only one of the 32 episodes that is missing them – 'Christmas Story'.
It's hard not to be taken in by the charm of 'The Andy Griffith Show', even with its dated humor and sensibilities. While the plots and situations seem simple by today's sitcom standards, the performances are not – particularly those of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, whose chemistry in Season 1 reveals why this series went on to become one of the most beloved TV shows in history. Recommended.