Nashville s1 ep 1

Soapy-but-supersmart new American import Nashville sets itself up, on the surface, as a duel of sorts between two women who stand for different eras. There’s country legend Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton, MRS COACH), very much from the rhinestones-and-hats end of the tradition, whose career is starting to founder; her albums aren’t selling as well, her concerts aren’t shifting tickets, and younger audiences want something else. Such as Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes): young, perky, and someone whose voice can be AutoTuned if need be. They meet-bitchy, then Rayna’s record label tell her that they want her to tour as Juliette’s support act, while Juliette is conspiring to steal Rayna’s lead guitarist Deacon away. Juliette has a Secret – at least one – and is plainly prepared to put out if the situation requires it; Rayna also has a Secret – at least one – and has, perhaps, a more complicated past than her outwardly perfect marriage to failed businessman Teddy (Eric Close, from Without A Trace) would suggest.

Rayna’s father Lamar (Powers Boothe, scenery-chewing) is, in ways which aren’t quite specified, a rich and wealthy powerbroker. His business interests require a weak and malleable Mayor, and he decides to promote Teddy as a candidate in the forthcoming mayoral election; somewhat improbably, within a matter of minutes Teddy is running. This causes domestic disharmony between Rayna and Teddy – we’re led to believe that this is fairly common – as Rayna had already agreed to back a rival candidate, and doesn’t like the suggestion that she should not only switch allegiance to Teddy, but should, perhaps, give up her career for a while to support his run for office. As she’s already been told that her star is in decline, this really isn’t a suggestion to which she takes kindly.

There are a few subplots, such as the clearly forthcoming romance between waitress Scarlett, Deacon’s niece, and aspiring songwriter Gunnar, which will get more or less time as we go on depending on how they test with focus groups, I should imagine. But there’s more than enough here already to suggest that Nashville’s a keeper: the storytelling is taut, the writing is clever, it’s plainly suitable for grown-ups, and there’s a feeling that the show’s going places. As for the acting: Hayden Panettiere isn’t quite up to what the show needs, yet, but might get there. Connie Britton is, of course, fantastic; she’s a genuine and major acting talent, and looks both wonderful and like a woman in her 40s should. For the avoidance of doubt I mean that very much as a compliment; as I’ve said more than once before, it’s great to see proper roles for women of a certain age. It’s presumably no coincidence that show creator and exec producer, Callie Khouri, has a track record of putting strong women on screen.

And Khouri is married to T-Bone Burnett, who is behind most of the music. If you don’t like country, and I must admit that I generally don’t, the music is no better than pleasant filler without in any way being a dealbreaker. With one exception, of course: the writers wisely keep their showstopper ‘If I Didn’t Know Better’ (a remarkable song by The Civil Wars in real life) until the end of the episode, and allow its yearning, brooding melody and lyrics to bleed all over the last few scenes, rounding off a terrific opening episode on a high note. I’ll be back for more next week.

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8 thoughts on “Nashville s1 ep 1

  1. Tim February 8, 2013 / 1:55 pm

    Totally agree. If I Didn’t Know Better is gorgeous, and I rather liked Boys and Buses too, which nailed the Taylor Swift crossover formula perfectly.

    I did initially wonder why More4 stuck it in the 10pm slot, but I suspect that a lot of the More4 audience time-shift their viewing anyway, and with American Idol on 5* serving as an indirect lead-in. I think it’s a rather clever piece of scheduling.

    I also read that Panettiere is seeking to distance her character from being compared directly with Taylor Swift, instead likening Juliette to a combination of herself and Idol season 4 winner Carrie Underwood. Given Juliette’s behaviour and history as portrayed in this episode, I’m not sure that’s a comparison I’d want …

  2. Jed Bartlet February 8, 2013 / 2:18 pm

    Taylor Swift was what occurred to me, Tim, although I read a profile of her in The New Yorker a while ago which suggested that she is, in fact, genuinely (if modestly) talented and quite a nice person as well.

    As for the scheduling: my guess is that More4 is trying to take The Good Wife’s audience with it into Nashville. TGW airs at 9pm, and also appeals to an adult and predominantly but not exclusively female demographic. (I now can’t find it, but I’m sure I saw somewhere today that Nashville had out-performed the usual viewing figures for its slot.)

  3. CJ Cregg February 8, 2013 / 8:08 pm

    I loved this episode and that last song is indeed beautiful. I actually think Hayden P’s very good as Juliette though – it’s Powers Boothe that lets the side down on the acting front for me. Like I said in my PSA, it’s like he’s in Panto. Which might be fine but everyone else is trying for Pinter. He needs to turn the volume down to, I dunno, 11. Especially when Connie is so amazing, and Eric Close and Charles Esten are pretty darn good too. Boothe just sticks out like a sore thumb around them.

    On the scheduling front, I reckon 10pm’s a great slot for the kind of audience they want, to be honest, Tim – as Jed said, it gets the TGW lead-in, but also it has the slot just vacated by Southland (another grown-up, high quality US drama) and it’s after people have had a chance to put their kids (if they have any) to bed and can sit down in front of the tv in peace.

  4. Kay20 February 21, 2013 / 3:15 am

    Echo all of your comments. I could watch Connie Britton mowing the lawn, but here she’s actually in a good piece of television that suits her talents and her voice. Not really a fan of Hayden’s, but I’m hoping she grows on me with time. The women on this show are better than the men – not a shocker of late, but refreshing. Hope the boys keep up and I grow to like Deacon as much as I liked Tom Scavo and Carlos Solis. 🙂

    • e February 21, 2013 / 8:57 pm

      I think Hayden P is the surprise breakout star of the show, taking a completely unlikeable character and making her sympathetic. Let me know whether you agree in a few eps.

      • Kay20 February 21, 2013 / 11:47 pm

        Good to know e, will keep an eye out. I have bad memories of her from Heroes, so she has a hill to climb with me.

        • e February 22, 2013 / 12:32 am

          Kay20, trust me. I really was planning on hating her.

  5. Jed Bartlet February 21, 2013 / 10:47 pm

    I’m prepared to believe that: I’m staying as spoiler-free as I can, but I gather that both of the lead females become more nuanced.

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