4 Your Consideration: NBC Cancels “Perfect Harmony”- Why it Feels Like Such a Cheap Shot

Credit: NBC

In September, NBC gave audiences the perfect half-hour comedy show. No, I’m not saying “perfect” to be witty or clever. Perfect Harmony really was perfect in every way. It featured a diverse cast, a woman showrunner, a diverse writer’s room, and had Bradley Whitford as the lead. I mean, come on. Whitford coming back to NBC in a comedy? It was the epitome of a chef’s kiss. Which makes it all the more frustrating that NBC decided to cancel the series after one season this past week. 

To top it off, Perfect Harmony was funny. Witty, slightly irreverent, and musical, Perfect Harmony accomplished the impossible. It made me laugh. Now I know that my own singular response to a show is not enough to keep it afloat. I realize that, but that is part of the beauty of the show, the ability to appeal to all audiences. I am notoriously picky with my comedies. I have tried many a famous comedy and found them all to be cringy, humorless, and awkward. Perfect Harmony wasn’t like that. 

In fact, I think Perfect Harmony was one of the more daring network comedies I’ve seen to date. (Notice I say network comedies. Network include the big four NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox.) It started off with their main character, Whitford as Dr. Arthur Cochran, about to commit suicide. It also routinely addressed Arthur’s grief and depression over the death of his wife in startling and emotional ways. It didn’t diminish his emotions or the emotions and worries of other characters in the ensemble. In fact, Perfect Harmony gave a chance for all of its characters to shine. 

And what a diverse and subversive cast of characters they were. Adams (Tymberlee Hill) was a strong Black woman who owned multiple businesses, was in charge of her sexual prowess and everything else, and who took no crap from anyone, least of all Arthur. Adams was also sweet, supportive, and protective of the people she loved. She let everyone in Conley Fork think she murdered her husband to protect him because he was a gay Black man who owned a drag club. I mean, how cool is that? 

Then there was Dwayne (Geno Segers). The epitome of the good kind of masculinity we need in media today. He was a gentle giant. He didn’t believe in hunting or hurting any other being. He was a pacifist, deeply devout, a vegetarian, but not without a bit of mischief. (He did pose for a manga cover where he was a sex horse. That’s a trip.) 

Reverend Jax (Rizwan Manji) is the pastor of the Second First Church. He tries to be hip but is adorably clueless. He might be meddlesome but he has his parish’s well-being in mind constantly. He’s always trying to do good things and push people in the right direction whether they are Christians or atheists. He cares about everyone, but he’s not without his own problems which include family problems and getting a new adopted sister later in life while trying to earn the approval of his family. 

Wayne (Will Greenberg), another masculine character, but not at all toxic (unless you count his weird obsession with snakes and occasional jealousy of Ginny toxic). He cares for Ginny, his ex-wife, and his son Cash. He’s not the greatest father, but he tries his hardest and he cares more than he often lets on. He grows a lot over the course of the show and gets kinder and more sure of himself. Even if he and Ginny have a weird dalliance that almost results in Ginny getting pregnant. 

Speaking of Ginny (Anna Camp), she is not the stereotypical blonde, country bumpkin one might expect from a series set in Kentucky. Ginny is a newly divorced single mother who is willing to sacrifice everything for the good of her family. She loves unconditionally. She respects herself and is supportive of her friends. She cares for Arthur and she tries to see the good in everyone. She’s also tough. Tough as nails, actually. She came from a divided family and her grandmother is canonically the worst. 

Then there’s Arthur, from earlier. The one who lost his wife. The complete opposite of Conley Fork. Liberal. Democratic. Cocky as hell. He thinks he’s better than everyone. But there’s a softness to Arthur, a complexity that extends further than his prickly demeanor. By the end of the series, he’d grown past some of his fears and his depression and grew closer to his Conley Fork friends and grew closer to Adams in a surprise ending to the season finale that no one saw coming. 

The supporting cast was equally diverse and featured Desi Dennis-Dylan, Shanice Williams, Kenton Chen, and Paul Vogt as the rest of the Second First Church choir. 

NBC canceling the show in the middle of Hollywood’s quest to amplify women and people of color’s voices feels like a cheap shot and a tone-deaf choice, especially when one considers the amount of diversity in the cast as well as the writer’s room. Seven of the fourteen writers in the writer’s room were women, including show-runner Leslie Wake Webster. At least five of the fourteen are people of color. 

When compared to other half-hour comedies of the 2019-2020 season, there really is no comparison either on-screen or behind the scenes. I counted nine new half-hour comedies for this TV season. Mixed-ish on ABC. Bob Hearts Abishola, Broke, Carol’s Second Act, and The Unicorn on CBS. Outmatched on Fox. Indebted, Sunnyside, and Perfect Harmony on NBC. Of those nine, two others, besides PH were run and created by women, Mixed-ish and Carol’s Second Act. Bob Hearts Abishola is generally credited to Chuck Lorre, and I will admit that he had help creating the show with writer and actress Gina Yashere. 

But here are the breakdowns on women in the writer’s room:
Bob Hearts Abishola: at least 5 out of 10 (renewed)
Mixed-ish: at least 8 out of 17 (renewed)
The Unicorn: at least 5 out of 13 (renewed)
Broke: at least 5 out of 11 (canceled)
Carol’s Second Act: at least 9 out of 15 (canceled)
Perfect Harmony: at least 7 of 14 (canceled)
Outmatched: at least 6 out of 12 (canceled)
Indebted: at least 5 out of 11 (canceled)
Sunnyside: at least 5 out of 13 (canceled)

And here are the breakdowns of people of color in the writer’s room:
Bob Hearts Abishola: at least 3 of 10 (renewed)
Mixed-ish: at least 10 out of 17 (renewed)
The Unicorn: at least 4 out of 13 (renewed)
Broke: at least 3 out of 11 (canceled)
Carol’s Second Act: at least 2 of 15  (canceled)
Perfect Harmony: at least 5 of 14 (canceled)
Outmatched: at least 2 out of 12 (canceled)
Indebted: at least 3 out of 11 (canceled)
Sunnyside: at least 8 out of 13 (canceled) 

In front of the camera, the truth is in the pudding. Bob Hearts Abishola and Mixed-ish are the only two surviving comedies that have more than two people of color in their main cast. The Unicorn has two who are credited for the entire 18 episode run. If Indebted is renewed at NBC, it will be the only new NBC comedy to survive and it will also be the whitest. Does that surprise anyone at this point? Perfect Harmony was the only new NBC comedy that managed to stay on air for all its episodes. Sunnyside was pulled and moved online to the NBC app. So, PH was the only new comedy on NBC that was allowed to play out that was not only diverse behind the camera, but also in front of the camera.

That’s part of the reason why its cancellation makes me so frustrated. The other reason is this: the show had so much more to give. These characters had much more to give and the audience had so much more it could have received. We learn that Adams’ husband is gay and runs a drag club. That opened the door to so much inclusion and the discussion of inclusion. I mean, come on. What other show had a church choir sing a mashup of “Ave Maria” and Cher’s “Believe” on stage at a drag club? Then, the audience had the opportunity to see a mixed race love triangle play out between Adams and her younger boyfriend Karl and Arthur. (Or, if you’re a Ginny/Arthur shipper like me, it would’ve probably been more of a love square, but the point still stands.) These characters would’ve done so much at the hands of the writer’s room that it’s sad the show wasn’t given a chance. Simple as that. And it’ll be an even bigger kick in the teeth if Indebted is renewed in its place. (Come to find out it hasn’t been so part of my argument is a moot point now, but, honestly, the point still stands.)

Regardless of what we’ve been given as an audience, it is still nice to see just how much the cast and crew loved and respected each other. On the heels of the cancellation, both Anna Camp and Rizwan Manji posted their goodbyes on Instagram and lamented their cancellation. They both also pointed out the diversity of the cast and the writers room in their posts. 

Camp’s statement in full reads: Well, NBC has cancelled @nbcperfectharmony and my heart really hurts. We had an incredible female show-runner, an incredibly talented and diverse cast, and an incredibly talented and diverse writers room. I’ve never loved every cast member more and never gotten along so well with everyone on a production. We wanted to show that you can bring people of different backgrounds together through the joy of music and we did. So sad to see it go. But I’ll never forget one second of the most joy I’ve had onset. I’ll miss seeing the folks of Conley Fork and I’ll miss Ginny so so much.

And she ended her message with a little heart emoji.

Manji’s statement in full reads: Female show runner ✓ One of the most diverse casts ever ✓ One of the most diverse writer’s rooms ever ✓ Female and diverse directors ✓ Cast/crew that gets along and respects one another ✓ CANCELED. 😭😭😭 Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but @nbc has decided not to renew @nbcperfectharmony. We had the best cast, crew and fans in the business and I will miss you all terribly. Much love Rev Jax. 

Grasie Mercedes, one of the writers on the show commented: Love you Rev. And yeah your caption is spot on. 

I’ve never seen anything like Perfect Harmony in my 14 years of being in fandom. Ever. It didn’t gloss over grief and depression in the face of losing a loved one. It emphasized family and friendships as the guiding light of good in this world. It celebrated flaws and pointed them out and made the characters face them in a believable yet funny way. There was music. There was dancing. It was a complete package that might never be replicated. 

Perfect Harmony’s cancellation is one of pain. Simple as that. NBC could have and should have renewed the show. In a time when female writers and writers of color need their voices amplified, NBC chose to stifle them. Not just with Perfect Harmony but with Sunnyside as well. It’s a travesty, but it’s also a sign of the industry and that said industry needs to be changed. Perfect Harmony could have been the perfect vehicle, but alas. It wasn’t meant to be.

Shelby Arnold
Hop On In

One comment

  1. Could not agree with you more. I haven’t watched a sitcom since the 80’s with the exception of Sports Night and Perfect Harmony. What a loss.

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