The Andy Griffith Show:
Paranoia on the Piedmont
©2017 Hal Padgett
—This SO never happened—
3:59 a.m. Insomnia had won again. But I wasn’t going to take it lying down—not in bed anyway. I stumbled into the den, collapsed onto the couch, and tuned in to TV Land. An episode of The Andy Griffith Show was just beginning. Twenty-seven minutes later I needed a slap in the face. What should’ve been a laugh-a-minute was instead, as far as I could tell, some idiot’s misguided attempt to expose the evils of racism with laughter. What a vile mess.
The episode was “Paranoia On the Piedmont.” It began on an uncharacteristically dark note for an Andy episode, when Emmett (in his simpleton albeit know-it-all way) proclaimed that Andy’s chain smoking and defensive body language were sure signs that he’d lost the battle against the forces of malicious absurdity. Andy explained that things had gone downhill quickly that morning, when a mass murderer escap-ed because Barney had hung the cell door keys on the cell door keys knob, within arm’s reach of the prisoner, as though it had been Otis in there sleeping off a binge. But Andy, never one to deflect responsibility, avowed that he was sheriff “by golly.” So it was his hair that got singed by flaming reprimand—from the FBI at the top, down to “some pencil-pushin’ dickweed in Raleigh.”
Underway for less than forty-five seconds, the episode was already sailing into then-uncharted waters. Things got worse in the following scene, when Andy nearly came to blows with Floyd over a butchered haircut and a constant earful of inane mumbling. And as far as I’m concerned, what came next was a first-ever for the show—Andy’s angst was revealed in a voiceover soliloquy:
“I am plumb sick of my life. Lord, how I pine for the days when me and Barney’d hit the sauce ever’ day after work, then me and him’d carouse all night with them fun girls, them two blond floozies from Mount Pilot. Don’t matter none a'tall the one I always wound up with talked like a man, and Barney’s gal always called him “Bernie.” Fact is, them two gals was plumb pixillatin’. Now, they’s only sweet tea and icy-cold kisses from Helen, with that Lutheran holier than thou way she has about her. And Lord goddamighty! Them big, freaky eyes a’hers that never seem t’blink. If Ernest T. Bass loves her so much, that sawed-off midget can damn sho' have her. Truth be told, I’m ‘bout due for another roll in the hay with Charlene Darlin’, who’s ‘bout as darlin’ as a wildcat stuck in a bob-wire fence on top an ainthill.”
“Dickweed” and “damn” were bad enough. But that thinly veiled barnyard metaphor for the more blatant metaphor “beast with two backs” left no doubt that this episode had never aired. (I also based this on the reasonable assumption that Satan never owned and operated a CBS affiliate within the contiguous forty-eight states.)
WHEN the episode resumed from a commercial break, Andy was wheeling the patrol car into his driveway. He switched off the lights and then, with sagging shoulders, hauled himself up the three rickety front porch steps, his left pants leg tucked into his ankle boot. He ignored the dusty guitar he’d plucked far too often and monotonously to the tune of “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie.” All that really mattered was that within minutes he’d once again have to deal with the “teeny-weeny yellow man and his weirdo cookin’.” The petite Asian gentleman in question was Srichi Srichiparn. Andy called him “Srich” (to his face), the way Barney called Andy “Ange,” and the way Andy called Barney “Barn,” Opie “Ope,” Gomer “Gome” and Goober “Goob.”
Andy wondered aloud: “Any chaynce in hell ol’ Srich’ has fried me up some catfish? Rustled me up some collards? Fried chicken? Corn bread? Lime Jello mixed with fruit cocktail? Anything but them funny smellin’ aygg rolls?”
The beleaguered sheriff got his answer when the first course of pla mueg pad prig arrived at the table, and a once-forthright Aunt Bee began her lying: “Ooooh, Srichi, the squid looks marvelous! You know I’ve always simply adored Thai food.”
“Great. More squee-ud,” Andy said, rolling his eyes.
“Paw, cain we have somethin’ else fer a change?”
Aunt Bee said “Opie!” with malice, then Opie turned to Andy for some sort of look that implied he didn’t have to apologize. Andy buried his face in his hands.
Srichi continued to smile as he calmly assuaged the tension: “Oo you no wuh-wee, eveetang you rike.” [This was excruciating to see, even worse to hear.]
Then he brought in the second course. About halfway through Andy called him in from the kitchen.
“Srich’, look me in the eye and tell me I didn’t hear no cat screamin’ in thar.”
Srichi was terrified. “Oh no. You no he-ah cat.” [Insufferable.]
Andy, hands in pocket, rocking to and fro, broke out the wide gap-toothed grin: “Heh-heh, reckon I done gotcha.”
Everyone looked puzzled, except Andy, who’d suddenly turned serious. “Lookit here, Srich’. That larb was sho’ nuff too spicy and flat overcooked. And all them chunks of lemongrass and lime wedges in the tom kha gai plumb gives my gizzard the willies, it does.”
“Me too, Paw!”
“I’m tellin’ ya, Srich’, we just plain cain eat this stuff no mo’. Truth be told, I reckon I cotton mo’ to Aint Bee’s meatloaf ‘n' mash p’taters.”
Aunt Bee broke into a fit of embarrassed giggling.
Srichi complied with Andy’s request to “Get this h’yar mess off the table,” then packed his bags. He caught the next bus to Fayetteville, where he had the misfortune of arriving in the middle of a KKK midnight rally. When he nonchalantly took a sip from a water fountain marked WHITE, he was promptly beaten to a pulp. After a short transition scene his corpse was shown being fed to the Grand Dragon’s butcher hogs. Even assuming that they’d used a stand-in dummy—still not funny. Try telling that to the laugh track.
AFTER TV LAND'S tedious self-promotional commercial break—a Bewitched montage, highlighted by the first Darren’s tortured double take in response to Endora having morphed Larry Tate into a Chihuahua—the episode resumed in the cozy confines of the Taylor kitchen. Aunt Bee washed dishes as Andy picked his teeth.
“Ol’ Srich’s been gone for nigh on three day,” Andy said.
“I kind of miss him,” Aunt Bee said. “Or at least I miss him washing the dishes.” They doubled up with uncontrollable laughter. The laugh track went insane.
After the laughter subsided and they blew their noses—where you don't want to know—Andy said, “Aint Bee, them was the best dang poke chops I evuh ate. Whatever they was feedin’ that hawg, it sho warnt corn. You say you got ‘em yestiddy, when you was visitin’ cousin Cricket’s hawg farm outside’a Fayetteville?”
The whistling theme song brought an abrupt and merciful end to it all. As the credits rolled merrily along, one stood out: “Written by Norman Lear & Terry Southern.” It was just as I’d suspected—too many social-hypocrisy-conscious creative geniuses in one pot, boiling over. What a vile mess.