‘Nashville’ Review: ABC Strikes Gold with Primetime Soap


Set against the backdrop of the surprisingly gritty and complicated country music scene, Nashville is set to be one of the best new dramas of the fall.

Set against the backdrop of the surprisingly gritty and complicated country music scene, Nashville is set to be one of the best new dramas of the fall.

As a TV viewer, I have been waiting for this day since I first previewed Nashville early in the summer. Everything about this show is perfection: the acting, the stories, the casting, the politics, the drama, and the music – oh, the music. It cuts to the heart of what country music fans love about the genre. The lyrics tell real stories about real people, some are dark and depressing and others are just about having fun. Some might be turned off by the connection to country music, but viewers need to know this is not a country style Glee. Nashville, at its core, is about people and the desires, passions, relationships, and needs that drive them. From politicians to drug addicts, past lovers, affairs, marital disputes, career struggles, and heartbreak – you know, all those things that country songs are supposed to be about – the show has it all. It delves into the journeys people take to make their dreams come true and the people they hurt, lose, and meet along the way. Simply put, it’s the best damn pilot this fall.

At the helm is Rayna (Connie Britton), the reigning queen of country. If you’ve seen Britton in her prior roles on Friday Night Lights or American Horror Story, you’re undoubtedly a big fan. She’s one of those soft, subtle actresses that doesn’t need words. The character of Rayna is strong, independent, and determined when it comes to career, but a family woman, a wife and mother. The contrast is reminiscent of country star Faith Hill. Just a wild guess over here. A stark contrast, also at the helm of the show is, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) as the flirty, sassy, much younger country star that’s exploded on to the music scene. She likes her dresses short, her breast perky, and can deliver an insult with the most polite of southern twangs. Both women sing – quite well – and you’ll find yourself wishing you could buy their albums.

Rayna’s career is waning, which prompts her record label to suggest teaming up with Juliette – as her opening act. It’s a major blow to a country queen’s ego and Rayna struggles with selling out her career to a country-crossover artist. Quite the realistic storyline given the crossover success of recent country acts like Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift. Country music isn’t just for country radio anymore.

Her music career isn’t Rayna’s only problem. Her relationship with her father (Powers Boothe), a Nashville politician who funded the early days of Rayna’s career, is controlling, stubborn, and pretty much pig-headed. Rayna feels like her father uses her fame to hold on to his own fading popularity, bringing about an interesting contrast to what’s happening in her own life. The distance she keeps from her father becomes an issue for Rayna and her husband, Teddy (Eric Close) who pushes toward using her father’s money. Her father is a schemer and so determined to go around his daughter that he pulls her husband into his political plotting. If you can’t get your daughter to side with you, going with her unhappy husband is bound to create even more problems, especially when he’s unable to realize how well his father-in-law is manipulating him. Teddy just made a deal with the devil that will undoubtedly have a devastating and lasting impact. How delicious is this aspect of things?! 

Rayna’s struggles lead her to confide in Deacon (Charles Esten), who’s been a part of her band for nearly her entire career. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and makes me appreciate flannel in a way I never have. These two have a serious history. The question is what happened? The subtle nuances of their scenes – the gazes, the touches, and the references to the past left me in a fangirl frenzy. The only thing missing from that scene on the bridge was a kiss, except Rayna’s a married woman and Deacon is totally the type of man to honor that. What exactly happened in their past? What would going back and doing things differently mean? Would the ring on her finger have come from Deacon? So. Many. Questions.

Meanwhile, Juliette has problems of her own – and I’m not just talking about her need for auto-tuning. Her mother is a drug-addict, who constantly tries to contact her for money, leaving her wrecked and heartbroken. This is where Juliette goes from being one-dimensional to complex and rootable. When she broke down in the storage room on the phone, you were probably close to breaking down with her. It was this precise moment that Panettiere clicked in this role. In a span of seconds, she moved from sobbing her eyes out to the self-destructive act of sleeping with her producer. My inner soap fan was riveted and felt no shame whatsoever.

Sex is how Juliette Barnes gets what she wants. Strangely enough, she still manages to come off as more than a slutty girl. She’s running from a damaged past, knows the true heart of country music – did anyone else want to weep along with her when Deacon sang ‘Firelies? I need that MP3 stat! – and it’s almost as if she uses her sexuality because it works in favor of her career. She’s rowdy and bawdy, keeping her vulnerable side locked away. Would people take someone like Juliette seriously otherwise? She’s a constant conundrum, moving between the vulnerable sweetheart and the in charge woman. Perusing Deacon almost says she knows he’s part of Rayna’s success and she wants to be that successful. Deep inside, she surely admires Rayna’s lasting career and aims to have one of her own. All of these things make Juliette so complex. At her core she respects country music, but knows what will sell her as an artist.  Characters like this are what drives TV dramas, so it’s safe to say Juliette is going down as my favorite after the pilot. 

Contrasted to Juliette’s fire is Scarlett (Clare Bowen), Deacon’s niece, who is all things delicate and sweet. She’s a waitress at the Bluebird Café, dating a struggling musician, Avery (Jonathon Jackson), and lacks the self-confidence to see every bit of talent she has. At the urging of a coworker, she puts her poetry to music and life-changing magic happens. If you didn’t get goosebumps when she sang on stage at the Bluebird, you probably weren’t paying enough attention. Scarlett’s voice is like butter and the meaning behind every word is so heavy the song hits you over and over in the head like a brick. There’s already an interesting dynamic building here. We not only see Scarlett’s potential to blossom into a country star, but we can see the relationship between her and her coworker, Gunnar (Sam Palladio), and the problems it might bring between her and Avery.

In the end of the pilot, Rayna put on her big girl panties, told her record label where to stuff it and despite her issues with her husband’s politic decision stood next to him as every good southern woman does. Juliette used her body to get everything she wanted – Deacon included. So much for holding on to the past with Rayna, eh? And this, my TV friends, is what we call fantastically written, soapy TV drama. Every character has a place in a bigger story, a motive, a desire, a need, and their stories will intersect as they pursue getting what they want. My only complaint so far is that there’s no official word on a soundtrack. Anyone else praying to the TV gods that we get these tracks? 

The episode culminated in Scarlett’s performance, overheard by Rayna’s manager, prompting an idea. Now to find out what it is, we’ll have to tune in next week. I already know where I’ll be next Wednesday at 10PM. What about you? Did you love or hate Nashville? Sound off in the comments below to let TVSource know what you think!

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Amber Cunigan
Amber Cunigan is a sarcastic mid-twenties undergrad, extreme book hoarder, Netflix addict, and reality TV aficionado. She enjoys excessive amounts of chocolate and caffeine, tweeting, and all things Ezra Fitz and Ryan Gosling. When it comes to TV, she expects to be thoroughly entertained and when not, she will slam and mock you, but still tune in next week. She's a glutton for punishment. Basically, she's awesome.

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