Nashville: Pilot

Nashville is a primetime drama about the complicated world of country music; all sparkles and smiles on the surface…catty and cutthroat underneath. Rayna James (Connie Britton) a 20-year country legend struggles to hang onto her career while poppy young upstart Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) threatens to snatch her throne with a blinding flash of cleavage and the hypnotic hum of autotune.

This is the story of one town with two very different faces, and we can see it from the moment we meet both women. Rayna is smart, friendly and genuine, the essence of down home country charm. She greets people warmly, hugs fans, and treats everyone like family. She radiates light when she’s singing on stage. Juliette is rude, abrasive and vapid. She’s concerned about her lipstick, a Vogue cover, an appearance on Good Morning America and an upcoming perfume line. Her focus is on everything but singing.

But Rayna’s latest album isn’t flying off the shelves. Her songs aren’t charting because she chooses quality tracks over handpicked hits. Venues for her upcoming concert tour are going to be half empty. In short, she’s not selling because she won’t sell out. Juliette, on the other hand, is a bona fide sensation. Her cheeky crossover songs are burning up the airwaves and not even Rayna’s young daughters can resist her catchy lyrics.

The two country stars do have one thing in common, however – they share the same record label. And the new head of label has come up with an unusual solution for Rayna’s anemic tickets sales. He wants her to piggyback on Juliette’s tour as a co-headliner, but when Rayna asks the obvious question, “Who goes on first?”… it’s awkward silence all around. Unfortunately it isn’t a request. If Rayna doesn’t agree to open for Juliette, the label will stop promoting her album. She has only a few days to make a tough choice between her career and her dignity. After a lot of soul-searching, she’s subjected to a humiliating meeting with the record execs where they demand a decision. She tells him they can ‘kiss her decision as it’s walking out the door’.

Nashville is about the struggles of getting older in a business dominated by youth, the pressures of staying current when something new and shiny comes along, and the ongoing clash between the authentic and the fabricated. And it is AMAZING! I completely adored the pilot. It was fun, sexy and juicy enough to stock a 24-hour smoothie bar, but it was also clever and subtle at the same time. There’s a lot of unexplored depth to all to the characters, even the minor ones. Nothing felt superfluous or inconsequential. It’s a rich vibrant tapestry and everyone has a valuable part to play.

While Rayna is presented as the likeable heroine, she’s not a guiltless saint. She has a tense relationship with her husband Teddy, who crashed and burned in the financial sector. We don’t have a lot of details about their marriage yet, but Teddy throws out the fact that he was her ‘second choice’ in the middle of a shouting match. Her first choice was most likely her brooding bandleader Deacon, who doesn’t hide the fact that he’s still pining for her. They were lovers in their younger years, but screwed it up somehow. As everyone (or everyone with taste) already knows, Connie Britton is magnificent in everything, and Nashville is no exception. She has such a raw appealing presence as an actress. She’s sexy and charming in the way a REAL woman should be, not the way Hollywood women pretend to be.

And while Juliette is a convincing villain, she’s not a clichéd bitch. Her mother is a broke drug addict who constantly calls asking for money. Juliette probably pulled herself up from nothing to become a superstar. She knows her sex appeal is her not-so-secret weapon and uses it not only to advance her career, but also to distract herself from uncomfortable emotions. But Juliette has a soft spot for soulful country music that gives the viewers a glimpse into a vulnerable heart. She has genuine admiration for Deacon, tearing up while watching him perform in a tiny bar. She tries to woo him away from Rayna by offering him a higher paying gig, but still bats her eyelashes and plays the vixen card instead of opening up to him. Hayden Panettiere completely surprised me in this role. I actually bought her as a sex symbol, which I didn’t think would be possible. She packs a lot of sass into Juliette’s strut and actually makes her short stature work for her. Juliette is like a devious little kitten or a petite acid-tongued doll.

The lead women are the anchors of this show, but there are a lot of other compelling players:

– Deacon, who is fiercely loyal to Rayna, but enticed by Juliette … or at least the attention she pays him. He’s a talented writer but Rayna has never recorded a lot of his songs because she knows they were written about her and it feels a little too personal.

– Lamar Wyatt, Rayna’s rich tycoon father whom she constantly battles with. She tries to keep her distance from his world and his wealth, refusing to accept any financial assistance. But he thinks she’s willfully blind and just pretends not to know that he was the one who financed her first album and kick-started her career.

– Teddy, who is often overshadowed by his celebrity wife. He’s trying to get back on his feet after a huge business failure and jumps at an opportunity to run for mayor with Lamar’s backing.

– Coleman Carlisle, another mayoral candidate who is a personal friend of Rayna and Teddy’s. Rayna planned to give him her support, but reluctantly backs away after Teddy announces his candidacy.

– Scarlett O’Connor, Deacon’s niece, who writes poetry and waitresses at a popular music bar in Nashville.

– Avery Barkley, Scarlett’s cocky songwriter boyfriend. Deacon worries that he’s not the right kind of guy for her.

– Gunnar Scott, another young musician with a crush on Scarlett. Gunnar convinces Scarlett to help him put her poetry to music and then lures her up on stage during open mic night to perform a song. When influential writer Watty White hears them perform, he immediately calls Rayna to let her listen in. He tells her he “has an idea”.

There is a lot of back story to explore, but the writers didn’t jam an overwhelming amount into the first episode. They teased us with just enough that we can’t wait to watch the entire story unravel.

I can’t wait to find out where Rayna goes from here. After walking out on her label, how will she prove that she’s still the reigning queen of country music? She’s sure as hell going to fight for the opportunity to walk back in there and go all Julia Roberts on their asses. Big mistake. HUGE. I’m dying to find out what Watty White’s big idea is and how it relates to Rayna. It has to involve the fabulous new talent he stumbled across.

Will I Watch This Again?
You’d have to handcuff me to a radiator to stop me!

Pretty good news! 8.98 million people watched, 2.8 in the 18.49 demo. It was 6th overall in the demo and number 1 in its timeslot, narrowly beating CSI and crushing NBC’s new series Chicago Fire.

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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