Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: 'Nashville' Episode One

As a longtime Nashvillian, I've been apprehensive about ABC's new drama Nashville. I was expecting a strong reaction either way, love it or hate it. That's why the most surprising part of Wednesday night's premiere for me was how neutral I felt about it.

Out of the gate I'll say the writing was good, the characters were mostly down to Earth, and Nashville mercifully didn't come off as some kind of hick town. The show also didn't really feel as if it had to be set in Nashville. For locals watching, shots of the skyline, iconic buildings, and Little Jimmy Dickens sightings are fun, but they feel mostly like props.

To give a brief synopsis of the episode, we meet country legend Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) at a point in her career where she's not bringing in the bucks she used to. Her album and tour are flailing financially and her label is pressuring her to co-headline a tour with up-and-coming country princess Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) who is absolutely unlikable as she disses Jaymes and attempts to seduce any male in her sight line. In this episode we also meet Rayna's father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), who has to be one of the most fantastically evil SOBs on television. Whilst looking for a puppet candidate to run for mayor, he lights on Rayna's husband Teddy, played by Without a Trace's Eric Close, also known as the whitest man on Earth. Manipulation ensues. Then there are the peripheral characters– Rayna's producer Randy (seduced by Barnes), Rayna's guitar player Deacon (about to be seduced by Barnes), and a love triangle of twenty-somethings at the Bluebird Cafe (Methinks one of them is supposed to be a hipster).

The previews would have you believe Nashville is basically Dirty, Sexy Money– all scandal, tears, and histrionics, but it's much more restrained than that. So, when Rayna's father subtly threatens to let slip to Teddy that her youngest isn't his if she doesn't support the campaign, Lamar's scary rottenness has all the room to fester instead of competing with fifteen other gasp moments. And that's a good thing because with as many characters as we met, effective and even character development is going to be tough. For example, the trio in the Bluebird Cafe remains largely a sketch. There's a waitress named Scarlett who is Deacon's niece, her kind of boyfriend Avery, an aspiring alt-country artist, and the Bluebird sound guy Gunnar who encourages and actually helps Scarlett to put her little book of poetry to music. Despite the fact that we know very little of them so far, Gunnar and Scarlett deliver the episode's best musical performance at an open mic night, as in, I'm considering buying the song off iTunes. Other songs sung on the show by Juliette and Rayna were definitely believable as current country tunes...  and somewhat forgettable.

So where does this all shake out? I think the show is good enough to stick with. Connie Britton indisputably gets who Rayna is supposed to be. Hadyen Panettiere is going to be one of those love-to-hate characters. Nashville is good but not killer, and that just might be because of all the little story strings it dangled so soon, like Declan and Rayna's suggested past or Juliette's meth head mom. It's a lot to establish. But it is a pilot. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, I'm just waiting for Belmont president Bob Fisher to pop up somewhere. That's for all you Belmont alums out there. Go Bruins.

Stray observations:

Edgehill Republic Redords = Nashville's Edgehill community + Republic Records

Lamar Wyatt and henchmen discuss building a ballpark downtown. Lordy, can't even escape the talk in TV land.

Next week I'm starting a tally of how many people say "darlin" every episode.

Nashville looks incredibly glamorous.

Rayna's daughters are definitely those cute sisters who had that Youtube video where they sang "Call Your Boyfriend" while keeping rhythm with solo cups.

Deacon look familiar? You must be a Whose Line is it Anyway fan. Chip Esten was a rotating performer.


Melanie Rainer said...

It was about halfway through when I turned to Price and said, "I can't wait to see how Bob Fisher capitalizes on this." Hahahahaha.

Erin Carson said...

Haha. Excellent. I feel confident the wheels are turning.