Ron Howard and Andy Griffith brought a dark and gritty Mayberry reboot to Saturday Night Live
Live, from New York...or...North Carolina?
Ron Howard is a delight to watch in interviews and on social media. With the reputation of playing America's favorite small-town son, it's no wonder that people flock to see what he's up to and where he's going next. If only he could take the character of Opie into the future with him. How would Mayberry react to having the sheriff's son back on the streets, following in his father's footsteps?
In 1982, Saturday Night Live took a gamble on a sketch that did exactly that. Howard was the guest host for the October 9, 1982, episode. He had the chance to stretch his acting legs in a number of sketches and scenarios, but none so memorable as the sketch "Opie's Back." The writers of the sketch took the postcard-worthy picture of Mayberry and asked themselves, "What if the town got caught up in the landscape of the R-rated action-thrillers of the day?"
The premise: Opie returns home as a police officer to find that Mayberry has been overrun with derelicts and crime. Once lovable, sweet-as-pie characters have been caught up in the spree and no longer see the town through rose-colored glasses.
In a desperate plea for help, Opie begs the spirit of his father, Sheriff Andy Taylor, for advice. The audience receives an exciting surprise when Andy Griffith himself appears to offer his two cents.
The sketch is definitely a product of the times; blood-splattered action movies like Sudden Impact and First Blood made it easy to apply a similar filter to wholesome Mayberry and its inhabitants. We learn that the town has turned bad after its peacekeeper, Sheriff Taylor, perished in a fishing accident. Adult businesses now line Main Street. Floyd the barber (Eddie Murphy) threatens Otis, who has moved on to harder stuff, with a razor. That is, until Opie returns to town.
The narrator explains: "Once he was a young, small-town wimp who got beaten up for his lunch money. But then he left home and grew up fast in Vietnam… And now, he’s back ready to clean up Mayberry." Yes, Opie was Rambo and Dirty Harry rolled into one.
The 1982 parody was rather prescient, mocking the way Hollywood tends to modernize classic properties with "dark and gritty" reboots. Take the current Banana Splits reboot, for example.
A few years later, the Andy Griffith Show gang would show officially what happened when Opie made his trip back to town, in the TV movie Return to Mayberry. While there was still plenty to do, there was no need for a crime-drama cop to be involved whatsoever.
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Think of that Don Knott's voice saying, "Now I know what you're thinkin'. did he fire six shots or only five?..."