ABC’s ‘Nashville’ is Noteworthy, if a Little Off Key

ABC's Nashville TV Series Cast ShotI was very excited for the new show Nashville on ABC. I was looking forward to seeing a show about a city with which I am familar (the shots of Nashville from the series are gorgeous). Plus, I’m a real sucker for cotton-candy night-time sudsers. Best of all, Connie Britton’s in it. She could act out the menu of a pancake batter recipie and I’d watch it. After seeing the first show, I’m still excited about it and think that ABC could have a hit on their hands if they tone down the cartoonish nature of Hayden Panettiere (golly, I love saying her name — pronounced pan-a-tee-air for you all wondering) and Powers Booth (ya, that’s not his Nashville character name).

Panettiere, plays Juliette Barnes, the up-and-comer on the music scene who is on track to displace Britton’s Rayan Jaymes, the “reigning queen of country music.” Barnes seems like the love child of Alexis Colby and Miranda Priestly if they were lesbians. In her first scene she cusses out her assistant and throws a the cell phone in the trash can after she hung up on her estranged momma. The only thing needed to make her more of a characture is if she started beating folks with wire hangers.

Powers plays Lamar Wyatt, Rayan Jaymes’s father with whom she has a tense relationship of her own. All he needs is a waxed mustache and maniacal laugh to make his villanous character complete. He’s got the voice and he’s got the presence to carry off the hard, power-hungry patriarch that Larry Hagman so perfected in a soap decades ago about another famous southern city, but Powers, like Barnes needs to pull it back a little.

Britton’s performance and scenes are the most strong and the most worth watching (and that’s not just because she’s as beautiful as sunset on the Cumberland River). She really has managed to make her character have depth. She manages to protray a woman who’s concerned about her career as well as a woman concerned about just getting older. And this is where I believe Nashville could be more successful.

When I first saw the promo trailer for it, I was puzzeled by the young devil/mature angel aspect.  I thought that this seemed more like a story for Hollywood or even the publishing industry vs. the music one. As Brad Paisley put it so well in his book Diary of a Player “There’s an accountability in Nashville. In New York or L.A. you can be a complete prick. It won’t matter. You couldn’t possibly offend enough people to make a dent in the population wide enough to affect your job or reputation…In Nashville you have to work together on these few streets that make up Music Row, because you will see your nemesis at the Pie Wagon at lunch. Screw somebody over and mark my words, they will be two tables over at South Street at dinner…And eventually we will make you leave and go to one of those bigger places where you belong.” I’ve been to Nashville myself and I get that same feel. I am sure there is some undercurrent of machinations with the bless your little heart attached to it, but I am also sure that it is not as overt as Nashville makes it out to be.

I think that Nashville could be more successful as a series if it explored some of the issues around staying on your game as you get older. This is something to which both men and women can relate. There’s also a big debate right now among fans in country music about the pop vs. twang sound. I’d like to see that explored more, too. I’d also like to get some real insight into what it is like to be the ingenue of country music. I think there’s an opportunity here to show the fans; the ones who are really going to be watching Nashville, a behind the scenes look at how you go from being small fish to big fish in the music industry pond. As a soap opera, or nightime drama, of course there has to be manufactured drama, but the drama that currently serves as Nashville’s main plot point is overly manufactured, and I can’t possibly see how the writers are going to be able to sustain that story over the course of whatever may be the lifetime of the show. I fear that if the show continues with its current standard soap archtypes that lifetime will be pretty short.

I hope I eat my words on that last sentance.

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