Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Dance Party: The Gentle Sitcom

This was a week full of incident, including the fourth of July, of course, and two trips to Arena Stage in DC to see some theatrical offerings.  And for a holiday week in the midst of summer, there were several newsy items of note. 
I think one of these Big Bang Boys discovered
something important to science. I didn't get
the full story.
The boys on the Big Bang Theory, or boys like them, discovered some atomic thingy which now explains the universe.  An at-home HIV test was approved, which will allow people who are too embarrassed to ask for such a test from their doctor,  to determine if they carry the virus.

The week began, as they so often do, on Monday, which happened to be my birthday. 
It wasn't one of those biggies, but I still received buttloads of salutations, thank you social media. Just as I was reveling in the realization that hundreds of people were taking the time to press some buttons on my behalf, my day was hijacked by this guy:
Don't look so cute and innocent. You know what you did.
Now, I have admired Anderson Cooper forever, and I am very pleased that he publicly acknowledged what everybody already knew, but really, on MY birthday? You couldn't have done it on TUESDAY? Well, his announcement was welcome, whenever it came, and his low keyed eloquence in explaining his reasons for remaining silent for so long rang true to me. There was a lively discussion on Monday regarding the fact that perhaps Coop (he likes me to call him Coop) should have come out a long time ago, but whatev. I believe him when he says that he remained discreet about his personal life in order to keep himself from being the Subject of the Story. 
Anderson Cooper and his flame dame Kathy Griffin are appointment television for me on New Year's Eve.
There were, however, some very shrewd decisions made about the timing of all this. The email in which Coop verified his sexuality was dropped on what is known in PR circles as "Take Out The Trash Day." 
Coop's news dropped on a day when
news is not a top priority. My birthday.

These are days which surround a national holiday, when the general public is concerned with things other than current events, and when difficult news is often announced, in hopes that the majority of Americans are too busy to make much fuss. But my overall point here, Coop, is that there are several Take Out The Trash Days this week, since Independence day fell on Wednesday. Did you have to pick my birthday?
OK, I kinda forgive you.
Since Anderson Cooper so rarely sings or dances, I was forced to turn to some sad news this week to inspire this week's Dance Party.

Andy Griffith
Everybody knows by now that Griffith died this week from a heart attack.  He was one of the most recognizable figures ever to come out of television, which is where he made his mark in two long-running series.  Griffith started his career as a singer, and made the move to stand-up comedy with a monologue about being a hick. 
Griffith, directed by Elia Kazan, held his own
opposite Patricia Neal. For a while, he was considered
a successor to Brando.

Film roles followed, including a strong dramatic turn in A Face In The Crowd, and a career-changing role in No Time For Sergeants, which Andy played on Broadway and on film.  He was pegged to star in his own comedy series by way of a back-door pilot episode of The Danny Thomas Show. 
Danny Thomas was stranded in Mayberry, and served up a pilot for The Andy Griffith Show.
To my own disappointment, I must confess that I was not a fan of The Andy Griffith Show when it first aired in the 60s. 
I couldn't stand these "gentle sitcoms." Give
me the sophistication of That Girl.

It was part of a generation of gentle sitcoms which peppered the landscape at that time (My Three Sons, Family Affair, Ozzie and Harriet, and a bit later, The Doris Day Show, were all part of that genre, as were the Paul Henning programs like The Beverly Hillbillies and its descendants).  I was more excited by modern-seeming sitcoms of the time, like Bewitched, That Girl, and later, the MTM stable of shows.  I thought these shows were more sophisticated with their humor, a claim which I'm not sure holds true in retrospect. 

The show's progeny included a sequel,
Mayberry RFD, and this spinoff, Gomer Pyle.
The latter took place on a Marine training base
during the 60s, but never mentioned Vietnam.

There is another reason I tended to avoid the "ruralcoms" of the day.  In the 60s, I spent significant time in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, where the fictional Mayberry was located.  My parents were born and raised in Hendersonville, which was exponentially larger than Mayberry, but had similarities to that small town. 
Not Mayberry, this is Hendersonville, where I spent many summers during the late 60s. There is a similarity.
I spent many summer weeks in Hendersonville; long afternoons on the front porch swing, drinking my Aunt Millie's sweet tea, were very similar to the activities portrayed on The Andy Griffith Show. I was being raised in Atlanta, whose inhabitants considered themselves much more cosmopolitan than other southerners, especially the "hicks" (as I thought of them) who populated Mayberry, NC. 
I appreciate Griffith's supporting cast
now, though at the time, I missed
their chemistry.

I did begin to enjoy Andy Griffith's show much later, in reruns, when the chemistry among the cast was evident to me, and the gentle humor of the show, though cornpone, had its own charm.  This week's clip comes from one of the many scenes which included a song.  As I've noted before in these pages, when sitcoms of the day starred someone who was also known as a singer, those talents were put to use. 
Don Knotts won 5 Emmys for the show.

It's interesting to note that Don Knotts, as Andy's sidekick, sings quite well in this and other clips from the series.  But if memory serves, there were at least a couple of episodes along the line which centered on Barney Fife's inability to carry a tune.  Whatever, we don't expect that kind of consistency from these shows. 

And the contributions of Andy Griffith to this series were substantial.  His decision to place himself in the central paternal role, and surround himself with more comedic characters, meant that he robbed himself of many of the laughs, but in doing so, he created a lasting legacy of gentle homespun humor.