Classic Character Actor: Don Knotts

I came to Don Knotts by way of Matlock. In Season 3, he moves in next door to Matlock, playing basically an older version of Barney Fife.

After watching Don Knotts on Matlock, I put myself through a time warp and checked out The Andy Griffith Show, and there was Don Knotts, absolutely fall-down hilarious.

The thing that impresses me so much about Don Knotts is his versatility. I've written elsewhere that we American media aficionados should be careful of assuming that British-Is-Always-Better. However, there is one thing that British television does do par excellence. Both American and British comedies will often have a comic character who is the butt of all the jokes. In American television, it seems like these characters are ALWAYS the butts, ALWAYS stupid, ALWAYS ridiculous. In British television, these characters will also often be right.

Red Dwarf accomplished this flexibility with Rimmer, played by Chris Barrie (which I wrote about here). The Andy Griffith Show astonishingly accomplishes this with Don Knotts. He's odd, quirky, occasionally vainglorious, romantic, sensitive, shrewd, and, most of all, intrinsically sweet and kind.

One of my favorite episodes is "Andy on Trial." Barney's boasts to a girl get Andy in trouble. The moment Barney realizes what has occurred, he immediately corrects the misinformation that he inadvertently passed on. His serious--yet entirely in character--monologue at the end of the episode always impresses me. Like so many actors from this era, Don Knotts was a remarkably multi-faceted actor.

Some of my favorite parts of The Andy Griffith Show occur when Barney and Andy play music (Andy Griffith was a music guy before he was an actor guy; like with many of these early television shows, the actors go back to Broadway and/or music). Although Barney is supposed to be a "bad singer" (several episodes have him trying to join the local choir), his nasally voice and harmonica work perfectly alongside Andy's guitar and what has been described as Andy's "low tenor and a soft baritone."

Some of the most touching moments in Matlock occur when the two men kick back in the living room and pay tribute to those bygone days when they sang together on Andy Taylor's porch.

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