This fish-out-of-water comedy treads familiar ground.
Arthur Cochran is a former professor of music at Princeton University. When his beloved wife Jean falls ill, he agrees to her request to move back to her small Kentucky hometown; when Jean dies, Arthur prepares to end his own life…and is saved only by the hideous sound of the First Second Church choir. Vowing to teach the choir to sing, Arthur quickly becomes enmeshed in the choirsters’ lives and personal problems. The newfound community decides to help save the irascible, insufferable Arthur from depression and suicide…provided they don’t kill him first.
The first episode of Perfect Harmony contained multiple profanities (including two uses of “bastard” and a bleeped-and-blurred f-word), and several references to sex (“It’s totally cool that you both want to bone the same lady,”) but was clean otherwise. Pilot episodes often contain more profanity and extreme content than the later program; if this trend holds true, Perfect Harmony should be a mostly family-friendly series, at least in terms of content.
In terms of attitude, however, some may find the show a different story. In 2017, NBC gave viewers Trial & Error, a program which presented a New York lawyer as the Only Sane Man trapped in a cesspool of Southern bigotry and ignorance. With Perfect Harmony, NBC once again gives viewers a smug, arrogant, fast-talking, East Coast know-it-all elitist, who deigns to bring his superior knowledge and enlightenment to the backwards yokels in the South, and proceeds to lecture them on how to conduct their own relationships and lives, while constantly putting them down with insults and sarcastic nicknames. Why, folks in small-town Middle America are so dumb they’ve never heard of dyslexia, or are aware it can be responsible for reading disabilities! How lucky for them that a wise, enlightened Ivy League professor has decided to set them straight.
The Southern characters are all caricatures: Ginny, a divorced single mother, waitress, and church pianist, who is sweet on the outside, but brittle on the inside, because she’s too naïve and ignorant to stand up for herself; Wayne, Ginny’s ex, is a quintessential redneck who owns dozens of snakes, yet thinks he’s God’s gift to women; Dwayne, a gentle giant of a man and Wayne’s best friend, nevertheless lusts after Ginny; the choir’s token African-American woman is a self-centered diva, not named “Sassy” (but she might as well be); and Jax, a goofy East Asian raised by white missionaries, but who is supposedly the church’s pastor. All of these characters are portrayed as hapless, ignorant children incapable of running their own lives. By contrast, the narrative depicts Arthur as nearly perfect, despite the fact that he’s actually grouchy, obnoxious, and rude to everyone.
It would be nice, just once, to see the resident’s of America’s small towns characterized as something other than mouth-breathing, Flyover Land caricatures; and it would be downright innovative if the smug Coastal characters were brought down a peg or twelve. Sadly, the last show to manage this was The Beverly Hillbillies back in 1971. As far as Perfect Harmony goes, a Paley Center panel promised that the Arthur character would “soften” over time; so perhaps there is hope left after all.
Perfect Harmony premieres Thursday, September 26th at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.