‘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.

‘Perfect Harmony’ May Have Been Imperfect, But There’s Room to Grow

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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.