For anyone who has been living under a rock and missed out on the massive amounts of publicity, Nashville is a new show on ABC. It focuses primarily on two female country singers. The first is Rayna James (the fantastic Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights), an aging woman who is kind of like Faith Hill. She’s wildly popular and considered country royalty, but is not drawing the crowds she used to. The second is Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), who is basically a super evil version of Taylor Swift.
From the very beginning, these two women are rivals. Rayna’s label wants her to go on tour with Juliette and co-headline (a fancy way of saying they want her to open for Juliette). When the two meet, Juliette first snubs Rayna and then says her mom used to listen to Rayna when she was pregnant with Juliette. However, the way she says that is the epitome of a backhanded compliment. Rayna is horribly insulted, of course, and throws a fit. She is determined that Juliette is nothing more than a temporary sensation, a shiny new toy for the public of which they will quickly tire.
Juliette has her own agenda. She approaches Rayna’s longtime guitarist, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten, Big Love) and asks him to come on tour with her. She drops a hint that Rayna’s tour might be canceled before Rayna has a chance to talk to him. When Rayna and Deacon talk, it’s pretty clear that the two of them used to be a thing and might not be 100% over each other. Juliette is also sleeping with her record producer, who happens to also be a longtime producer for Rayna. Plus, Juliette has a drug addict mother who constantly calls her to ask for money. Juliette is basically evil, but it’s clear she will eventually become sympathetic.
There are a couple other subplots that are clearly going to come into play over time. Rayna’s husband, Teddy (Eric Close, Without a Trace) is running for mayor of Nashville, despite Rayna’s wishes that he not. Rayna’s father, Lamar (Powers Boothe, Hatfields & McCoys), is behind the campaign and Rayna has major issues with him. She’s afraid her dad will somehow corrupt Teddy. It’s heavily implied that there was some sort of scandal involving Teddy and money. It also is clear that there are problems between Teddy and Rayna, and her father knows something about this. He clearly has some sort of blackmail on his daughter.
The final storyline revolves around Deacon’s niece, Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen, Dead Man’s Burden), a waitress who says she’s a poet, but others tell her she needs to be a singer-songwriter. Her boyfriend, Avery (Jonathan Jackson, General Hospital) is also an up-and-coming songwriter, who Deacon does not trust at all. Meanwhile, Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio, Episodes), another songwriter, loves Scarlett from afar.
By the end of the episode, there are major plot twists set up for the rest of the season. The pilot is really tight and introduces just enough to leave the viewer wanting more. The show comes from Academy Award-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), so it’s hard to expect much less. There are some interesting questions raised around the expectations of women, both in show business and in family life. There’s clearly a fascinating dichotomy between the younger and older women and the problems associated with age in show business. I, personally, would love to see Rayna and Juliette develop a strong relationship because I feel there aren’t enough strong, positive relationships shown between women on television. However, they are also compelling rivals. I like that both women are depicted as independent and courageous.
Overall, this is arguably the strongest drama pilot of the new season. It held my attention and made me want more as soon as it was over. There is, naturally, a lot of country music in the show, but I still loved it, despite not being a fan of that genre. I would watch Connie Britton read the phone book, but she is truly phenomenal in this role. She’s a strong singer and as most people already knew, an amazing actress. Panettiere really shines as Juliette and has grown a lot since her days as the indestructible cheerleader Claire Bennett on Heroes.
If you didn’t catch the pilot when it aired, be sure to watch it online. People are going to be talking about this show. I’m predicting it’ll be this season’s Revenge.