The Easygoing Lies of Andy Taylor

The only thing we seem to let our young daughters watch regularly these days are cooking shows on the Food Network, the most wholesome network on television. Thank God they like them. Recently, we thought to introduce them to wholesome television from our own youth so we bought them the first season of “The Andy Griffith Show.”  

You will recall this show tells the story of a sheriff, a widower, in a small North Carolina town raising his son, Opie, with the help of his Aunt Bee and in the company of a wonderful cast of characters including Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife, Floyd the Barber, Otis the Town Drunk, Ernest T. Bass the Mountain Man, Gomer Pyle the Gas Station guy, Miss Ellie the druggist (and Andy’s love interest), and many others.

Each episode presents a pickle: that is the best word for the vexing, but not terribly vexing, issues Andy has to work out. And each episode ends with Andy delivering a lesson to Opie or others who look up to him as something of a small-town Abe Lincoln.

The story lines are simple. The very first episode is about how Rose, who helps Andy raise Opie, is going off to get married. Aunt Bee, who raised Andy, is coming to take her place. Opie does not like this one bit and shows Aunt Bee the kind of disdain only a five year old can. She can’t do anything Rose can do.

Aunt Bee concludes Opie will never take to her and she decides to leave. But then Opie rushes out, throws himself into her arms. and pleads with her to say: “You need me. You need me to teach you all the things you don’t know like fishing and baseball.” Nice ending.

In another episode, Andy and Barney Fife are high-hatted by the state police captain who has come to Mayberry to capture an escaped prisoner. Andy and Barney are shunted aside which makes Opie mad as all get out. Turns out, though, Sheriff Andy knows a thing or two about catching bad guys, particularly that bad guys on the run are mighty attracted to freshly baked pies. And by episode’s end, the captain wants to give Andy an award.

We have loved these shows. The girls love them, too. We sit on the couch grinning, and cackling like chickens, even guffawing a bit. Not only are they funny, but they show people treating each other with real respect and manners.  We like that everyone says “yes ma’am” and that Andy opens doors for ladies. All that is wonderful.  But along with these old fashioned courtesies it began to dawn on us that each episode is packed full of lies, all delivered with the same kind of grace and courtesy.

             Miss Ellie and Sheriff Taylor

In the opening episode, Andy and Opie take a clearly befuddled Aunt Bee fishing. Andy lies to Opie that Aunt Bee is not used to lake fishing since she is a sportsman more used to fishing on the ocean. When Aunt Bee loses Opie’s caged bird, Andy gets him a new one and lies to him that it’s the same one who just got tired of being in the wild and flew home. These are not damnable lies, as we say in Catholic moral theology, but he is lying to his boy. And it struck us as kind of odd. 

Cathy and I decided long ago not to lie to our children. Who doesn’t remember their Mom lying to a caller when Dad didn’t want to come to the phone? We decided never to do that. We even told them the truth about that old geezer Santa Claus, preferring to tell them about St. Nicholas instead.

And then came an episode where Andy’s lies really got rolling and they were told for his own benefit.

Pretty Miss Ellie comes to town to help her uncle run the drug store. The Mayberry Picnic is coming up and Andy invites her to come with him. She agrees. Later Andy works himself into a real lather that, preposterously, Miss Ellie had really lured him into asking her out, that she’s a man hunter and he’s her newest victim.

To get her off the scent, Andy goes around town lying to other fellers that Ellie thinks they’re kind of cute. One guy has nice eyelashes, another has a nice nose, yet another has an attractive physique. With the help of blabbermouth Opie, Miss Ellie figures it out and gives Andy heck.

Ellie goes and accepts Barney’s invitation to the picnic, which gives Andy second thoughts. So Andy outright lies to Barney that lots of pickpockets are headed to the picnic. He will miss out on major police work. But that’s alright. Andy will just deputize someone else – who would get all the glory. Naturally, Barney falls for it and Andy ends up taking Miss Ellie to the picnic.

There are big lies and small lies in almost every episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” They make me wonder if the generational disillusionment of the 1960s started at least a few years before Dealey Plaza. The show started in 1960 when the front edge – the most troublesome cohort – of that generation turned fourteen. No way that they missed Andy Taylor’s whoppers. I draw a line from Mayberry to Haight-Ashbury to Altamont and beyond.

OK, maybe the line’s not so straight. While the easy fibbing of Andy Taylor really jarred us, we’re not such ninnies to stop watching altogether. Andy and his crew are still exponentially better than current network television. Do they use lies as plot devices on network sitcoms today? Who knows? We don’t watch. At least with Andy – lies and all – there are no lesbians.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.