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Same old tune

NBC’s Perfect Harmony relies on tired stereotypes about rural America

NBC Universal Media

Same old tune
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In movies and TV, one story premise seems used more often than most others: A new director takes over a music program, a football program, a literature department, etc. The latest example is NBC’s Perfect Harmony, a Thursday night comedy about a struggling church choir.

Not all such dramas feel stale (think Mr. Holland’s Opus). And of course, the newcomer teacher, director, or coach typically has new ideas that don’t jibe with the community. The problem comes when producers rely on lazy stereotypes to populate the small towns their choirs, schools, and churches inevitably inhabit.

This show has them all. Rednecks who married too early. A sugary-sweet pastor who turns out to be a villainous hypocrite. To be fair, though: All churches should strive for the diversity of Perfect Harmony’s fictional choir community.

Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) playing grumpy widower Arthur Cochran might be enough to draw viewers, but this show lacks Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting chops. “I became head of one of the best music departments in the country without caring about being accepted,” Arthur declares at the start of Episode 2, summarizing the pilot for any viewers who missed it. “Why start now?”

Some quicker-witted dialogue peppers the show, and certain characters show more nuance after Episode 1. And yes, there’s plenty of music, like a mash-up of “Hallelujah Chorus” and “Eye of the Tiger.” Still, viewers may not get a chance to see if things improve: Ratings for the first two episodes were dismal.

Last year NBC tried a series with a similar premise, Rise, loosely based on a young adult book series. The show was extremely sexualized and highlighted the “small-minded,” small-town folk making life hard for a theater director. It didn’t get picked up for a second season.

Which raises the question: When will Hollywood get the message that relying on rural America for clichéd characters isn’t as profitable as it thinks?

—This review has been updated to correct the name of the screenwriter of The West Wing.

Laura Finch

Laura is a correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously worked at C-SPAN, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Indiana House, and the Illinois Senate before joining WORLD. Laura resides near Chicago, Ill., with her husband and two children.



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