TV Review: Nashville [SPOILERS]
Nashville – “Pilot”
Season 1, Episode 1
It took less than five minutes into the premiere of ABC’s Nashville for Connie Britton to put a smile on my face, when she unleashed her first “ya’ll.” As country singer Rayna James, Britton struggled with an under-performing album, poor tour sales, a record company more concerned about their young crossover star, and a meddling, tyrannical father.
Like any good primetime soap, there was plenty going on in Nashville to keep the audience’s attention. The series premiere came off as part Treme, part old-school Dallas, and part Grey’s Anatomy.
Nashville began exploring a fairly unique American city defined by its signature music. And while that approach reminded me a great deal of David Simon’s Treme, the two are very different creatures. But there’s room for lighter shows that don’t take an ultra-serious approach to everything.
Creator Callie Khouri, who wrote the pilot, crafted something better fit for a mainstream audience. The series had appeal for more than just country music fans.
After five seasons of marveling at Britton’s quietly powerful and incredibly honest performance as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, I was more than ready to watch her lead her own series. Not even my incredibly negative reaction to her last project, American Horror Story, could sour me on Britton’s talent. She was a much better fit for this series.
Britton highlighted the pilot with a strong performance, as Rayna had to deal with the fact that she isn’t as conventionally beautiful, successful, or popular as she was a decade or two earlier. And while her rivalry with up-and-coming Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) was the main storyline, it’s far from the only thing going on.
The cast was strong throughout, but I loved Rayna’s Machiavellian power-broker father, Lamar Hampton. It was a role that lands right in Powers Boothe’s wheelhouse, and his decision to run his broke son-in-law Teddy Conrad, played by the always capable Eric Close, for mayor ties him to the main action – and Rayna’s life – convincingly. His scene talking the gullible Teddy into the run is a terrific showcase for Boothe. Any loser would kill to hear a great and powerful man say, “I believe in your destiny.”
I was more worried at how one of the weakest links among the cast of Heroes, Panettiere, would stand up in comparison to Britton. In the series’ first hour, at least, she was thoroughly impressive as Juliette, who has enough dark issues in her past to provide depth to her bitchy sex-kitten persona. A few well-placed scenes that allow Panettiere to play Juliette when other people aren’t watching her offers something deeper and establishes a fair amount of sympathy for a mostly mean and manipulative character.
The rest of the cast got a bit short changed for screen time with all the work needed to establish the main characters and settings, but that’s expected of most pilots. Charles Esten was enjoyable as band leader Deacon, who doubles as Rayna’s former and Juliette’s current romantic interest, but his character still seemed thin given his prominent screen time. His poet niece, Scarlett, played by Australian actress Clare Bowen, was the most interesting of the secondary level of characters that include a pair of aspiring male singers and various political figures (including mayoral candidate Robert Wisdom of The Wire!).
The main concern going forward was whether or not the writing stays on pair with Khouri’s impressive pilot, and if Panettiere continues to impress. Britton… well, no worries there.