Country Music and Plenty of Soap: ABC’s ‘Nashville’ Pilot Review
Nashville, ABC’s new entry into the scripted musical drama craze begun by Glee and Smash, premieres this October in the Wednesday 10 PM time slot previously occupied by Revenge. Nashville‘s writing and music both come with excellent pedigrees; the pilot episode was scripted by Callie Khourie (Thelma and Louise), and Grammy award winning T-Bone Burnett produced the music. And though not as riveting as the murder oriented and melodramatic Revenge (which has graduated to the more popular Sunday night spot left by departing series Desperate Housewives), Nashville still provides plenty of good ol’ southern soap to accompany its country music score.
Connie Britton, who played possibly the best television wife of all time as Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights, is once again a smart, strong wife and mother … but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Whereas Tami’s career was constantly overshadowed by that of her successful football coach husband, country music legend Rayna James is a one-time Nashville superstar, a legendary diva whose husband Teddy is between jobs after a failed business venture. But despite Rayna’s amazing musical ability (and we’re happy to report that Connie Britton is convincingly talented in the role; the lady can definitely sing!), the waning sales for her latest album and concert tour spell serious financial trouble for her family. And in a plot reminiscent of the theatrical film Country Strong, the longtime recording label that Rayna helped to build is pressuring her to share the stage with a younger, more popular star: Juliette Barnes, played by Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) as a nasty, trashy vixen who will stop at nothing to further her own career – including (quite literally) seducing Rayna’s music producer Randy Roberts (Burgess Jenkins) and lead guitarist Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) away from Rayna to come work for her.
The main storyline in Nashville revolves around the country music industry and its sometimes dishonest business practices. But if that isn’t dramatic enough for you there’s plenty of turmoil in the political subplot, which involves Rayna’s rich and influential father Lamar convincing her husband Teddy to run for Mayor of Nashville. Lamar, played with a J.R. Ewing level of southern evil by Powers Boothe (24), is as controlling and manipulative as he is wealthy, and it’s easy to understand why Rayna wants nothing to do with him or his money.
And if neither of those plots appeals, there’s also a budding romance between two young musicians (Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen); band leader Deacon’s long unrequited love for Rayna; family tension between Rayna and her sister Tandy, who works for their father Lamar; and probably at least one more that I can’t remember. The biggest weakness in the pilot, in fact, is the very large number of plots and characters all trying to fit into one 42-minute show … it’s really quite impressive how many musical numbers were included among the many stories. Hopefully once the show starts airing on a weekly basis, there won’t be a need to fit quite so many plots into each episode, and there will be room for even more original music.
Nashville will air Wednesdays at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC, starting on October 10.