PERFECT HARMONY: 1.01 “Pilot”
I watched this episode twice. For some reason, after I watched it last night, I felt like I had missed something. It’s not that I didn’t understand what I saw: professor comes to Kentucky town, helps a choral group with a competition, and then they compete in said competition. That’s all pretty straightforward. But I felt like I missed when the choral group actually rehearsed, got better, suddenly became this group who could truly compete in this intense competition and pull off “Eye of the Tiger.”
So I rewatched it. And to be honest, I did miss something. It turns out that when you already know the key plot points, you notice things like the humorous one-liners and running gags (like Reverent Jax’s movie titles) and, oh yeah, why the ending was so important and sentimental for Arthur.
But let’s backtrack. What all happened in this episode? Well, after his wife’s death, Arther parks himself outside a church looking for a sign, while drinking and deliberating suicide. The less-than-perfect sounds of a chorus singing brings him into the church, where he tells everyone what they’re doing wrong and passes out. (Now, personally, I didn’t think they sounded all that bad—at least not so bad that you’d need to go in and fix the issue—but perhaps as a musician, this wasn’t the case.)
Upon waking, we find out a little about Arthur’s backstory and the group tells him about a choral competition they need his help with. (We’ll start fast forwarding now to hit the highlights.) Then, Arthur realizes that the reverend from a neighboring mega church that wouldn’t let his wife be buried in their cemetery is also in the competition, so he agrees to help out of spite. We discover that Ginny was married to Wayne, who still loves her, but so does his friend Dwayne (really just realized their names are Wayne and Dwayne as I write this). Arthur convinces Dwayne to let his feelings be known to Ginny, which he does that afternoon. (Apparently, all it takes is one person to tell him to go for it and he does. Who knew?) Arthur causes all kinds of tension with the group, and they all get angry. Ginny’s son runs away to Arthur’s boat, where Arthur realizes he’s dyslexic, therefore indicating that Ginny’s divorce is not to blame for his fighting at school.
Then, they get to the competition, sing, release butterflies, and win “most improved.”
Whew. That’s a lot for 22 minutes. I mean, even Sister Act needed an hour and 40 minutes to whip the nuns into shape. No wonder I missed some of the details. They shoved so much plot into one episode that the character development and elements of subtle humor were glossed over just so you could follow the action.
Which is disappointing. Because if you had slowed down, you would’ve heard (and remembered) that Arthur’s wife collected butterfly figurines and that they’d whistle “Eye of the Tiger” to each other when they were trying to find each other in a crowd. I heard both of these in my original watch, but they didn’t register. Once the competition came, I just thought the chorus was quirky for singing “Eye of the Tiger.” I forgot that he mentioned that title earlier at the cemetery; I only remembered the “Rocky” joke. I had no idea why there were butterflies. I forgot his wife collected figurines, so I didn’t make the connection. And I didn’t even notice Arthur getting misty-eyed.
It was actually a great moment—if only it had been given its due. Slow down, take a beat. This could’ve been better executed in at least two episodes, if not played out over an entire season. The first episode should’ve just ended with his agreeing to help, with the line about how he was helping out of spite and “God works in mysterious ways.” That would give a little more space for the jokes, like the fact that Wayne lost all of Ginny’s money and left nine snakes in her garage (which makes the snake he brought over to Arthur’s boat make much more sense).
All that said, I do think there’s room to grow. Bradley Whitford is an incredible actor, and I would follow in him to any TV show. Anything he’s in ends up being excellent, and I do think he’s very careful about the projects he signs on to. Once we get to know the characters more—and their quirks—there’s a lot of material there. We just haven’t had the opportunity to see that yet. Only drips and drabs that got shoved into a too-full pilot.
So, sure, I’ll keep watching. But I do hope they take a slower tempo. A little less presto, a little more adagio.