As a recovering television writer and someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time in front of an inordinate number of cathode ray tubes, 2006’s flap over the movie The Da Vinci Code is something that I just could not resist.
I haven’t read the book. I haven’t seen the movie, and if the opinions of a bunch of snooty French film critics are any indication, this particular cinematic effort that spilled forth from the Hollywood film machinery will most likely find its way in the cultural lexicon somewhere between Bedtime for Bonzo (my apologies to Bonzo) and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (my apologies to Martians, especially albino ones).
But all of this controversy and all of this hand wringing — even from our team, i.e. the Church, could have all been avoided if only there had been an episode of the old “Andy Griffith Show” like the one I will describe here.
“Classic” is an overused word, but it does apply to the black and white “Andy Griffith Show.” When it finally came out in color, Barney Fife and Gomer were gone and Opie had hit the awkward stage, but from its inception through most of its run in glorious black and white, it truly was a show that achieved the balancing act of possessing a beautiful mix of broad comedy, real pathos, clever writing and pretty close to brilliant acting.
One thing they did on a regular basis was have a “serious” show. Now keep in mind this was a half-hour comedy and even a “serious” show would contain copious amounts of near perfect comic timing from Don Knotts as Barney Fife, the hapless deputy to the steady, strong and wise Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by television legend Andy Griffith.
Usually, the shows that had a serious bent to them revolved around Sheriff Andy Taylor’s son Opie, played with a genuine innocence by none other than the now famous director of The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard.
Imagine if the writers had decided on doing a
different kind of “serious” show in their series. It could have gone something
like this: A new family moves next door to the
Opie discovers that John Paul and his family are — and here is the shock — Roman Catholics. When visiting the sheriff’s office, which Opie was incessantly doing in the series (didn’t he have to go to school?), Opie hears Barney and Floyd the barber talking about the “papists” that have moved into town.
Opie listens wide-eyed as stories of “cannibalism, Mary worship” and all manner of un-American and secretive dealings are thrown about with infallible certainty by Barney and Floyd.
“Why, they don’t even read the Good Book!” Floyd the barber might say. It’s not an impossible scenario. There were multiple instances within the real show where Barney, Gomer, Floyd and others behaved with prejudice and folly only to be brought back down to earth and, dare I say it, tolerance by Sheriff Andy.
I can picture the episode escalating out of control as Opie refuses to play with little John Paul because of his “strange, bizarre, and cultish” religious practices. John Paul would be hurt and isolated in a town where the only friend he had has now abandoned him. Barney and Gomer might form some kind of citizens brigade to keep an eye on the newcomers and maybe even spy on their “activities” in church where some of the “cannibalism” allegedly takes place.
Like all episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” there would be a lot of laughs and then the character of Sheriff Andy Taylor would come in and restore order. There would probably have been a father-to-son talk up in Opie’s bedroom. Sheriff Andy would tell his son that little John Paul and his family are good people who love Jesus just as much as they do and although their practices are different from what they and Aunt Bea might do, there is nothing to fear from Catholics and there is certainly no good reason at all for Opie to sever his friendship with his new neighbor John Paul.
Opie would see the light.
Barney and Gomer would disband their covert operations against the local parish and probably end up the show addicted to bingo and fish sticks on Friday nights. Aunt Bea entering into an RCIA program guided by Mrs. Ryan is probably a bit of a stretch, but one element would be crystal clear: Opie would not have been instructed by his television father that Jesus was some kind of teacher or gentle-hearted philosopher.
Actually, the name Jesus probably wouldn’t have been uttered at all in the black-and-white television land of 1962. That’s because all those years ago, everybody in the town of Mayberry and everybody in the towns and cities across the United States that tuned in to CBS to watch the antics in Mayberry already knew who Jesus was.
But if only Sheriff Taylor had had that talk to his television son Opie, maybe director Ron Howard, whom the television Opie grew up to be, wouldn’t have been “inspired” to use the savior of the world as a cheap dramatic device and present a piece of dubious pop culture that has the potential to do harm to those who have yet to read the ultimate best seller and the Good News of Jesus Christ, the divine.