‘Nashville’ Pilot Recap: “Thank God for Auto-Tune”

In recent weeks, ABC has promoted its new series ‘Nashville’ as if it were the great new drama of the season. As someone who isn’t much of a country music fan, I had to approach this with some skepticism. Color me pleasantly surprised, then, to find that the pilot episode is pretty good after all.

I’m sure that no one is actually confused by this, but I feel it necessary to point out that this ‘Nashville’ has no relation to the famous Robert Altman film of the same name, other than a common setting and theme. The series was created by Callie Khouri, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘Thelma & Louise’. Connie Britton from ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘American Horror Story’ stars as “Reigning Queen of Country” Rayna James, a fading superstar whose latest album has underperformed and whose concert tour isn’t selling well. To put her back in the spotlight, her record label insists that she “co-headline” (read: “open for”) hot young ingénue starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a raging super-bitch with no respect for her musical elders. The offer is insulting, to say the least. Unfortunately, Rayna may not be in a position to refuse. Her husband’s failed business has left the family in tough financial straits.

Around this storyline are several subplots. Juliette attempts to seduce and steal Rayna’s bandleader Deacon (Charles “Chip” Esten), with whom Rayna used to be romantically involved. Rayna’s close friendship with the current mayor is strained when her father (Powers Boothe), a devious political power-player in the city, backs her husband to run in the upcoming election. This forces Rayna to choose between her friend and her husband.

By episode’s end, Rayna walks away from her record label rather than suffer the indignity of playing second fiddle to Juliette. Just as this looks like it may have been a terrible mistake, her friend (a talent scout) discovers that Deacon’s teenage niece may be an emerging songwriter who could help revitalize Rayna’s career.

The episode has great performances from most of the cast, and some really terrific music. The writing is also pretty good for the most part, though I fear that Juliette and her rivalry with Rayna are too schematic and thinly sketched. She seems to be a bitch just for the sake of being a bitch, which isn’t all that interesting, and Panettiere doesn’t do much to make her sympathetic. Hopefully, a storyline about her estranged junkie mother may bring a little bit of depth to this underdeveloped character.

I don’t know that ‘Nashville’ quite lives up to all of the network’s hype, but so far it has a lot more potential than I expected.

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