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Kent Bernhardt: Once again, TV just can’t do church

Kent Bernhardt

….or “Bringing in the Heaves”

I had such high hopes for a new NBC sitcom called “Perfect Harmony.” Unfortunately, it lost me after exactly one and a half episodes.

Bradley Whitford, formerly of “The West Wing,” stars in it as Dr. Arthur Cochran, an abrasive and blunt former music instructor at Princeton. While mourning his wife’s death in her Kentucky hometown, he drunkenly stumbles into a small church during choir practice and sets out to transform the ailing choral group just in time for an upcoming annual competition.
Cochran reluctantly discovers the next chapter in his life in this unlikely locale.

Whitford is brilliant in his new role, but unfortunately has been given little to work with by his writers. TV sitcomery once again made the mistake of forcing such an eclectic group of supporting players on us so rapidly, we had exactly zero time to get to know or care about any of these individuals.

It was full speed ahead to the choral competition which took place at the end of the first episode. Viewers were served sitcom fast food when they were hoping for at least a three course dinner.

The focus of “Perfect Harmony” is on the punch line when it should be on the people. I’m glad this show’s developers don’t bottle wine. They’d squeeze a few grapes into a glass, add some alcohol, then shake it up and serve it hoping you wouldn’t notice how hastily it was assembled.

This isn’t the first time TV struck out trying to do a show set in a church.

With the possible exception of “The Andy Griffith Show,” TV seems totally incapable of understanding what churches are. They give us caricatures instead of characters, and they usually assume everyone you find in church is a card carrying hypocrite.

For the record, you will find hypocrites in church. That’s easy. The hard part is confronting your own hypocrisy.

Griffith’s writers found the humor in church – and trust me, it’s there – but they also managed to find its sincerity and warmth. The congregants in Mayberry’s All Souls Church weren’t perfect, and that was the whole point. The church is more of a hospital for the sick and seeking, and less of a museum for the pious.

“Perfect Harmony” seems in a hurry to grab a laugh via a quick quip or putdown, a trait in most TV comedy today. The show is capable of so much more than it offers.
I suggest NBC recall every episode filmed to date, burn them, and start all over again. Expand the show to one hour if you like.

Introduce the supporting characters to us slowly. Let us get to know them and care about them. Things happen at a snail’s pace in a small town, especially in churches. Let off the gas a little.
Finally, it might be a good idea to have the writers and cast spend a little time in an actual church choir. There’s a wealth of humor and warmth to be found there.

Among other things, you’ll discover that not everyone wants the solo or to be the choir diva. Most choir people are actually somewhat shy. They sing because they just love to sing. It’s that simple.
Proceed slowly, and you may just have a hit on your hands.

 

Kent Bernhardt, who knows whereof he speaks, grew up in Faith.

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