“The Andy Griffith Show” is comfort viewing for many, especially around here, and as someone who has seen every (black and white) episode untold numbers of times, I had to check out “The Mayberry Effect,” a new documentary about the enduring legacy of the 1960s television show. It turns out, I am an amateur compared to the superfans I learned about in this film. I’ve never even dressed up like Thelma Lou, not even once.
If you were one of the many readers who watched my recommended “Pig” and are still traumatized, “The Mayberry Effect” will soothe you back down. It dabbles into the psychological ramifications of nostalgia, and touches for a nanosecond on racism, but mostly it just interviews Andy Griffith show cosplayers, which I didn’t even know was a thing, but very much is.
Mount Airy, North Carolina is the wholesome small town birthplace of actor Andy Griffith, and when he went on to star in a TV show set in a wholesome small town in North Carolina, it was assumed to be a fictional stand-in for the real place. There is some perplexing interview footage where Griffith himself disputes this concept, and some footage where he confirms it. This controversy is brushed aside, however, and “The Mayberry Effect” spends most of its time in Mount Airy, at their popular and profitable annual “Mayberry Days” celebration.
Cashing in on their connection to the Mayberry, Mount Airy has a quaint downtown full of places that traffic in Mayberry merch, called “Mayberry on Main,” “Opie’s Candy Store,” and, most promising of all “The Loaded Goat,” which is simply a great bar/restaurant name and a terrific Andy Griffith tie in. “Mayberry Days” which, coincidentally, are going on as of this writing, is a multi- day festival with parades and events which, if you don’t get excited about seeing a replica of Barney and Andy’s squad car driven slowly down the street, might leave you cold.
I tried to determine if the casual viewer could get anything from “The Mayberry Effect.” If the Mayberry maniacs depicted were weird enough for this to be a collection of odd, obsessive humans, but I think, like the original show, there is only sincerity to be found here. None is more sincere than the actor David Browning, who performed a version of Barney Fife that was blessed by Don Knotts himself.
His impression grew from deep admiration just like the other impersonators that sprung up around him, until a substantial stable of Mayberry characters developed. A podcaster named Allan Newsome, who has generated Mayberry fan content for decades, including a very early online bulletin board and now a podcast called “Two Chairs No Waiting,” portrays Floyd the Barber. The gang of actors also boasts a really good Ernest T. Bass, a sober-only Otis Campell, and even a pair of “The Fun Girls,” one of whom is actually Andy Giffith’s real daughter Dixie.
There are some interesting segments like a police officer who shows episodes in his DARE drug prevention workshops, and preachers who have Andy Griffith-related Bible studies. While the impact of this show is clear, a deeper dive into the implications of what that means falters. Any time an interview subject tried to talk about how “things” used to be “better,” and a more trenchant conversation about what that meant in the larger sense, fell short. Delving into any topic other than fan love felt like filler, an unfocused attempt to make the documentary more serious. The guy who plays Otis Campell tried to contrast the halcyon Mayberry setting with contemporary North Korea, and that was the only part of the documentary that felt like a parody.
Maybe I’m just under the nostalgic spell described in the movie; maybe the whole thing felt like a Christopher Guest mockumentary and I’m just too soft headed to notice. This sweet, short documentary was only good for unironic appreciation of a funny old TV show. If you want to deconstruct historical ramifications, psychological aspects, or even delve deep into the background of the show itself, you must look elsewhere. If you want to see a darned good Barney Fife impression though, you will be delighted.
“The Mayberry Effect” is currently available to rent on Amazon.
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