Friday, August 7, 2020

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ As Barney Explains the Oedipus Complex)

Deputy Barney Fife [played by Don Knotts]: “It’s the old mother figure bit: he loves her like a mother. Sigmund Frood wrote a lot about that.” —The Andy Griffith Show, Season 5, Episode 4, “The Education of Ernest T. Bass,” original air date Oct. 12, 1964, teleplay by Everett Greenbaum and James Fritzell, directed by Alan Rafkin

I’ve always thought that no TV character could fracture the English language so often, effortlessly and hilariously as All in the Family’s Archie Bunker. But I must say, after watching numerous episodes of The Andy Griffith Show in this year of social distancing, that Barney Fife comes in a close second.

Sheriff Andy Taylor’s lovable but flummoxed deputy brings to mind nothing so much as the couplet from Alexander Pope: “A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” (Of course, Barney is more likely to think of the creator of those lines as a religious leader than as an English poet.)

Barney applies the principles of psychology far more broadly than simply to substitute mother figures. He is also a student of the criminal mind, concerned that any show of leniency is liable to be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Firearm use is a necessity, he believes. “There's Andy, and there's me, and baby makes three," he says, patting his gun.

Is it really his fault, then, that his gun goes off as soon as it’s placed in his holster?

The physical aspects of Barney Fife—the sneer and strut in front of no-account occupants of the Mayberry jail that inevitably precede his bulging, saucer eyes and sweating forehead—overshadow his extensive resort to malapropisms. But his misuse of the mother tongue also makes him one of the great subsidiary characters in sitcom history.

For his performance in this role—including his dexterity in mangling language in so many sidesplitting ways—Don Knotts was nominated five times for an Emmy, winning each one. By the end of that extraordinary streak, I’m not sure why the Television Academy didn’t simply throw up its hands and rename its Best Supporting Actor Award in his honor.

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