Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Off Kilter TV: Where Horror Rears its Ugly Head on Family Television

(Here we discuss TV shows that do not fit the mold of the themes and topics usually associated with a particular series; that off kilter story that questions darker subjects within the framework of family television).

Now onto our episode for today: The Andy Griffith Show: Mr. McBeevee (1962)

The Andy Griffith Show

Season Three, Episode One (1962).
Episode: Mr. McBeevee.
Director: Bob Sweeney

Discussed by Anthony Servante

Fans of The Andy Griffith Show are familiar with the characters Andy, the sheriff of the small town of Mayberry, Barney Fife, the loveable but awkward pseudo-intellectual and aesthete, Aunt Bee, the mother figure, and Opie, Andy’s young son. We, as I am one of the show’s biggest fans, are also acquainted with the themes often addressed on the series: Friendship, bravery, trust, family, and honesty, family friendly subjects that can be addressed with humor and compassion. Our episode for discussion is Mr. McBeevee (1962), where the theme of existential truth pits fact against faith. We shall explain.

Let’s summarize the episode first.

SPOILERS!!!                                      SPOILERS!!!                                      SPOILERS!!!

If you haven’t seen the episode before and would like to watch it first before reading further, scroll down to find the video. However, if you prefer to read the piece first and watch the show later, then read on.

Opie & McBeevee 

Opie’s new friend whom he meets in the woods dresses in a shiny hat, a tool-belt that jingles, and climbs on the treetops; that's because he's a phone line repairman. Andy and Barney believe that the person known as Mr McBeevee is a figment of the boy’s imagination, so when Opie begins coming home with gifts from McBeevee (a hatchet and a quarter--a huge amount of money for a boy of this year), Andy decides to “spank” his son if he does not admit to McBeevee’s nonexistence. Opie refuses reluctantly, knowing he’d be lying if he denied his forest friend’s existence. Andy takes a leap of faith in his son’s belief although he still does not accept the jingling man as real. He faith is rewarded as he runs into the telephone wire repair man and realizes that Opie was telling the truth all along.

From the beginning of this episode, the “truth” is fodder for a game of the imagination. Both Andy and Opie pretend to have a horse. Barney asks to see the horse and later realizes that it does not exist. At their office, the sheriff and his deputy discuss the dangers inherent when playing with the truth. Andy apologizes for misleading his deputy on the matter of the pony.

Opie enters the courthouse and mentions his friend McBeevee for the first time. With the imaginary horse incident only a day old, both Andy and Barney believe that Opie is making up the man in the woods. He sees his son as a liar and a thief and plans to spank the boy for a crime he didn’t commit.

The truth up to this point is subject to the whims of Andy’s humor with Barney and his humoring Opie by going along with the imaginary horse. For the first time, the usually savvy Andy seems uninformed and lost when the truth is right in front of him. What he found funny with his joke on Barney (that it is okay to stretch the truth) has now come back to punish him.

Opie is sent to his room to await his spanking. Andy gives him one last shot to avoid the beating (yes, beating, because that’s what it is), and that is for Opie to admit that Mr. McBeevee doesn’t exist. Opie cannot lie and faces his punishment, but not before asking, “Don’t you believe me Pa?” After a moment of clarity, Andy says he does believe his son, though he clearly does not.

Andy asks Opie to deny Mr McBeevee's existence

So what happened here? We should take a moment to distinguish reason from revelation. Reason works from evidence and empirical data, mental processes as well as emotional (instinct, for instance) to gather the “truth”; revelation gathers the truth by supernatural faith, factless belief.

Barney exemplifies the former by believing in Mr. McBeevee and even questions Opie for evidence of the jingle man’s existence, but the boy’s outlandish descriptions of the phone wire repairman (he has 12 hands, for example) soon has Barney backpedaling from his data gathering investigation. In a second, Opie is found guilty. Andy exemplifies the later; he gathers evidence from “things unseen”. Andy chooses to believe that the impossible is possible because his son accepts it, and father accepts son, the tangible, as a truth-teller and chooses not to punish the boy, as opposed to accepting that his son is a liar and punishing Opie.

Opie looks up to McBeevee

Andy summarizes his leap of faith, There comes a time “when you’re asked to believe something that just don’t seem possible; that’s the moment that decides whether you got faith in somebody or not.”

When Andy returns to the woods to contemplate the mystery of his faith, he murmurs aloud, “Mr. McBeevee, who climbs down from the tree with his jingly belt and shiny hat. It may as well have been a real fairy who materialized. Andy realizes, through empirical proof, that the phone man is a fact. But his leap of faith kept him from making the mistake of punishing his son because he believed in the unbelievable. Even if it were true.

Ironically, Barney does not believe that Andy met McBeevee and calls the doctor to examine the sheriff. Andy teases Barney as he did at the beginning of the episode. Even though the truth won out in this episode, there were dark themes at work. Imagine that Andy had punished Opie. The truth for both of them would have been gone. The dynamics of the father/son bond would have crumbled. 

Barney makes the call.

Similarly, Andy's relationship with his deputy, based on humor, (even as Andy is relieved to find the real Mr. McBeevee), reverts to his playful ways with the facts and fragile beliefs of his deputy, the naive Barney, teasing him about having dinner with the phone linesman while the deputy sincerely believes that the sheriff may be suffering a break-down. But Andy’s invitation to Barney to join the phone repair man and the Taylor family for dinner that evening is sincere. With the horse at the beginning of the episode, the joke led Barney to a lie, whereas, at the end of the show, Andy’s jest on Barney will lead him to the truth about Mr. McBeevee. 

Andy has learned to play with the truth while leaning toward fact and discovery. By denying his own dark thoughts about beating Opie for lying, he discovered that the truth can be found in ridiculous circumstances or absurdities. We all must face Mr. McBeevee at one time or another in life . All it takes is a leap of faith over darkness.

Scene where Andy takes a leap of faith. Click the link below to watch. 

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