‘Perfect Harmony’ Hits Typical Second-Episode Snags

E72ACF3A-A0A4-47A9-8DC6-7E318B29AF91PERFECT HARMONY: 1.02 “Fork Fest

There’s something unfortunate about the second episode of new shows. Unless you’re something like a thriller with supernatural elements that is dependent on pushing forward an ongoing storyline (like, say, Emergence), you tend to fall victim of some standard second-episode traps, especially if you’re a comedy: trying to be something for everyone, so people will keep watching and you’ll bring in some folks who missed the first episode; being funny enough but not too far in one direction (too crass, too elite, too specific); not spending any time on character development (might takeaway from the plot or humor) while still trying to establish who everyone is.

Most of all, you just haven’t figured out what the show is yet, and you’re forced to move forward with a stand-alone episode of television that’s just…weak.

I mean, think about it. Community had that terrible second episode where Jeff was still trying to get together with Britta, and they had the silent protest (and Annie and Shirley had their own not-so-silent protest). If you watch a mid-series episode and go back to that one, it’d be almost unrecognizable in its ill-suited humor and vague character entities. No crazy antics. Nothing to really put its stake in the ground as a fresh new comedy. And unfortunately, Perfect Harmony is basically repeating those mistakes.

Here we have a new episode where, if you missed the pilot, you wouldn’t miss much. Arthur is out of place in an old Kentucky town, and they’ve doubled-down on the country vibe by introducing Fork Fest, where pie-eating contests, tractor pulls, and pig-catching competitions reign supreme. Our wee choir is excited to perform, only to have Arthur insult the man who makes scheduling decisions for the festival and they’re given a terrible time slot, all because (gasp) he honked at his truck. To make matters worse, when he apologizes, the man sees Arthur use hand sanitizer after a handshake. (To be fair, I could see how someone would see that as insulting.)

It’s a…fine premise. But that’s about it: fine. The problem here is that it’s nothing special. The jokes aren’t that great–oh, look! Arthur is wrestling a pig in mud and getting dirty! Ginny has to navigate rumors that she was cheating on her ex, all so her son doesn’t have the festival ruined by her divorce. Again, fine.

Meanwhile, we have a lot of other characters that we have to fit into the episode plus new townspeople and gossips we need them to play off of.

I can’t say that’s really a lot for one episode–it’s your standard A and B plot. But it doesn’t really give me a good idea of what the show has in store. It doesn’t really make me grow attached to any of the characters. In fact, it doesn’t really grow my understanding of the characters–or show–at all. It’s just…there.

For instance, why does the choir choose to sing “Glorious” at the end? Sure, I liked it, but it really seemed like it was just so that they had a somewhat pop song to use in the episode promo and to draw in people who may have missed the first episode. But is the choir trying to use pop songs, like Sister Act? Is that how they want to set themselves apart? If so, why were they singing something more traditional in the first episode opener? And would Arthur really be up for those kinds of songs, considering that he listens to classical music on his drives around town? If he’s guiding them, wouldn’t he be more of a traditionalist?

And how did they get so good anyway? We barely saw Arthur working with them. They were “most improved” the week before, and they supposedly sounded so terrible to begin with that it made Arthur hop out of his car, drunk, and go on a tirade.

What is this show about? A Princeton professor whipping these people into shape? His struggle getting used to a small town, like a city boy in a Hallmark movie? Something else?

I’m not surprised. Like I said, this is common for second episodes. They try to meet all of their potential watchers in the middle, only to become nothing special. The problem with this approach is that they don’t always get to grow into what they want the show to be, since weakness can easily mean cancellation is around the corner.

Let’s just hope Arthur and his choir can prove themselves in some way that doesn’t require a baby pig in order to stay on NBC’s schedule.

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