Angela Henderson-Bentley: ‘Griffith’ episode perfect snapshot of old-fashioned Christmas
Ask anyone about the quintessential Thanksgiving TV episode and most people will say the “Turkeys Away” episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The rest will most likely name one of the Thanksgiving episodes of “Friends.”
When it comes to Christmas TV episodes, however, there’s not just one that the majority of people will recall. My favorite is “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” from the second season of “The Big Bang Theory,” but I’m also partial to “The Toaster” episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” There are also standout Christmas episodes of “Friends,” “Frasier,” “Happy Days,” “The O.C.,” and even “Saved By the Bell” from which to choose.
But if I had to suggest what should be the quintessential Christmas TV episode, the one that represents the best example of what a yuletide episode should be, I would have to go with the half-hour that first aired 58 years ago this week: the classic “The Christmas Story” from the first season of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The episode begins with Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts) opening Christmas cards at the courthouse on Christmas Eve. Andy and Barney are excited about the celebration that evening at Andy’s home where Barney will play Santa Claus. But Andy and Barney’s good time doesn’t last long as Mayberry’s richest man, Ben Weaver (Will Wright), shows up at the courthouse with Sam Muggins (Sam Edwards) in tow, ignoring Andy’s protests that it’s Christmas and forcing the sheriff to put Sam in jail for making moonshine. Sad that Sam is away from his family for Christmas, and disappointed Barney will have to stay behind and guard the jail, Andy decides to have the Christmas Eve celebration in the courthouse and “arrests” Sam’s entire family as accessories to moonshining.
When Ben discovers what Andy has done, he starts watching the celebration, causing him to have a change of heart about Christmas. So he sets out to get arrested in order to be a part of the festivities. But each time, Andy’s girlfriend, Ellie (Elinor Donahue), interferes to keep Ben from going to jail. Finally, Andy figures out Ben’s plan and arrests him. Ben joins the party, bringing a suitcase of presents for everyone.
Like many Christmas TV episodes throughout the years, “Story” pays homage to the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” with Ben serving as Scrooge. But this one takes a simpler approach by eliminating the visits by the three ghosts and allowing Ben’s transformation to happen organically while watching two families come together to celebrate a wonderful time. 58 years later, the half-hour still stands as a perfect snapshot of a good, old-fashioned family Christmas - even if it is in a courthouse in front of two jail cells.
“Story” was the only Christmas-themed episode “Griffith” ever did in its eight seasons. I guess they knew not to mess with perfection.
You can see “The Christmas Story” episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV Land at 1 p.m. Christmas Eve, and again at 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Christmas Day. You can also stream it anytime on Netflix.
Angela Henderson-Bentley writes about television for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact her at email@example.com.