Arthur and the Second First Church of the Cumberlands choir rescue each other in the pilot episode of NBC’s Perfect Harmony.
Perfect Harmony is both heartfelt and hilarious. Bradley Whitford portrays Arthur Cochran, a music aficionado and curmudgeon with a heart. Arthur uses his dry wit to cut to the chase and come to the aid of a struggling church choir in Kentucky. Little does he know that they will come to his aid as well.
Arthur grieves his wife and feels anger over the denial of her final wishes to be buried at a large church in her hometown. He sits outside a much smaller church where she has been laid to rest. Arthur is lost without her and seeks meaning for his life. When he hears the choir butchering the “Hallelujah Chorus”, he runs inside the church to set them on the right course. A tumultuous relationship ensues between the choir and Arthur.
The choir wants Arthur’s help. Arthur does not want to help. Arthur agrees to help for the wrong reason. Arthur helps the choir but offends its members. The choir dismisses Arthur as director. Arthur finds another way to help. The choir invites Arthur to return.
The tale may be a familiar one but the execution of said story sets Perfect Harmony apart. One might say the show’s balance of wit and heart results in, well, “perfect harmony”.
Let’s take a look at some of the “high notes” from Perfect Harmony‘s inaugural episode.
I am a sucker for a character that doles out clever nicknames. Arthur is no exception. He hilariously assigns nicknames to each member of the choir, sometimes more than once. For example, Arthur calls Dwayne, known for a familiar twang in his drawl and a penchant for snakes, “Matthew McConaugh-snake”.
Arthur sizes people up and gives them nicknames to reflect what he sees in them. Over the course of the pilot, he learns that the nicknames lack the depth of what the choir members truly have to offer. While he ultimately finds a deeper connection with the choir members, I suspect his nicknames will not be short-lived, as least I hope not!
Right back at you
Arthur is not the only one who pokes fun. Ginny (played by Anna Camp), who is desperately trying to hold the choir together and help her young son, manages to squeeze in a basketball joke. Arthur has retired from the music department at Princeton. When Ginny introduces Arthur to the choir, she praises Princeton for being a really good school despite their performance in the NCAA basketball tournament. This is clever joke considering the church is in Kentucky, which is known for its success in college basketball.
Ginny also has a running gag with the famous biscuits at the diner where she works. On Arthur’s first visit, the diner runs out of biscuits and Ginny offers him toast instead. After interfering in Ginny’s personal life, she withholds the biscuits from Arthur. Finally, when he redeems himself by identifying dyslexia as the source of her son’s trouble at school, she gladly offers the biscuits to Arthur.
Initially, Arthur only helps the choir out of spite. One particular church traditionally monopolizes the choir competition and also denies late wife Jean’s wishes to be buried in their cemetery. The pastor of the same church also brags to Arthur that he was Jean’s first kiss.
Arthur starts out doing the right thing for sort of the wrong reason. Ultimately, while he still wants to defend his wife’s honor, he opens his crusty heart to the choir members and truly wants to help hone their talent.
In between the laughs, there are some very sweet moments where we learn that Arthur’s late wife was the “fun one” in the relationship. The choir pays attention to details Arthur shares about his wife, her love of butterflies and a cute story about the song “Eye of the Tiger”. The choir incorporates both butterflies and “Eye of the Tiger” into the mashup they sing at the competition. The performance earns them the trophy for “Most Improved Choir”.
While the choir cannot fill the void of a lost spouse, they do return some fun and personal connection to Arthur’s world.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Arthur’s scarf. He wears it several times throughout the episode. The style initially seems to clash with the more casual attire of the other people in the small town. As Arthur and the choir begin to embrace one another, the scarf just feels more like his signature style than a departure from the crowd. And, honestly, it’s just a great look for him!
I cannot wait to see Arthur continue directing the choir at Second First Church of the Cumberlands. I look forward to many more laughs sprinkled with some truly heartfelt moments.
Tune in each week at 8:30 pm ET for new episodes of Perfect Harmony on NBC.