This well-done Andy Griffith vehicle opens with a picture of his character fishing with his son. It's reminiscent of the title sequence of "The Andy Griffith Show." Yet when Gramps proceeds to torch a house with obvious relish (accompanied by strains from an electric guitar, no less), you know Griffith's been cast against type. We're not in Mayberry anymore.

This well-done Andy Griffith vehicle opens with a picture of his character fishing with his son. It’s reminiscent of the title sequence of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Yet when Gramps proceeds to torch a house with obvious relish (accompanied by strains from an electric guitar, no less), you know Griffith’s been cast against type. We’re not in Mayberry anymore.

Exec producer Fred Silverman, also responsible for “Matlock,” does let Griffith go back to his roots in another way, however, as Gramps is a guitar-picking country singer (retired).

We learn in B&W flashbacks that his wife left their abusive relationship decades earlier, taking son Clarke (John Ritter), poisoning everyone against her spouse, and cutting him off from his progeny. Following her death, he shows up to reclaim his family.

Clarke has married Betsy (Mary-Margaret Humes) and they have a son, Matthew (Casey Moses Wurzbach).

Gramps wiggles his way into the household, winning over skeptical housekeeper Rae Ellen (Tonea Stewart) with his guitar and his even more skeptical grandson with ice cream and candy.

Behind the unctuous charm there’s pure, calculating evil.This silver fox is out to sabotage his son’s family to gain a perverse semblance of his lost one. He’ll do anything to be with his grandson, including break Rae Ellen’s legs with a baseball bat and frame his daughter-in-law for cheating. And when her father (Mitchell Ryan) investigates, there’s nothing a shotgun won’t fix.

Taut teleplay by J.B. White has some nice touches.

There’s a gleam in Griffith’s eye throughout and it’s good to see him enjoying himself. But he often crosses over into hamminess by telegraphing with long, wide-eyed stares.

Director-cinematographer Bradford May ably delivers the goods. Tech credits are decent, although more ominous music would have helped sustain the tone.

Ritter is a bit stiff in the serious role. Humes acquits herself well enough, as does Wurzbach. Ryan is effective.

Nbc Movie of the Week Gramps

(Sat. (20), 8-10 p.m., NBC)

Production

Filmed in Wilmington, N.C., by the Fred Silverman Co. in association with Viacom Prods. Executive producers, Fred Silverman, Joel Steiger; producers, Jonathan Shestack, Robert Girolami; co-producer, David Solomon; director, Bradford May; writer, J.B. White.

Crew

Camera, May; editor, Solomon; production designer, Linwood Taylor; sound, Carl Rudisill; music, Joseph Conlan.

Cast

Cast: Andy Griffith, John Ritter, Mary-Margaret Humes, Casey Moses Wurzbach, Mitchell Ryan, Erich Anderson, Tonea Stewart, Dorothy R. Brown, Lou Criscuolo, Joshua D. Crouch, Paula Scott Davis, David Dwyer, Shawn Earney, Nelson George, Rasool J'Han, Kay Joyner, Trevor Keane, Mark Jeffrey Miller, Robin Mullins, Tracy Schmetterer, Claudia Smith, Wells Struble, Alex Van, Rick Warner, Muse Watson, Jeromie Wilson.

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