Recap: ‘Nashville’ isn’t just a “flash in the pan”
I have a bad habit of following actors to whom I’ve grown attached from one show to another. Sometimes it turns out all right, like last night when I made the obvious decision to follow
Tami Taylor Connie Britton’s flawless mane to ‘Nashville.’ But sometimes it’s a bad call, like when I blindly allowed my love for Jess Mariano to carry me to ‘Heroes’ (for the record, I quit after the first season, as one rightly should have).
‘Nashville’ was the pilot I was most looking forward to watching this fall. I’d heard nothing but fantastic buzz around it for months. And, I mean, come on, it’s got Tami Taylor and Cy Tolliver, y’all. It has to be good. And let me tell you, it was good.
Britton’s back in the south – this time it’s Tennessee – and she plays Rayna James, a county music star a la Reba McEntire, but with better hair. But her album isn’t performing as well as hoped and her tours aren’t selling out venues the way they used. So her music label suggests that she co-headline, but in reality she’s the opening act, with the up and coming Taylor Swift-like Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). Rayna’s got Tami Taylor’s strength and fierceness and refuses to be told what to do, walking out of her meeting at the record label when it’s clear that they won’t put up with her denying the co-headlining tour.
Speaking of the tour, Juliette’s music isn’t really country, more pop country, and her voice doesn’t sound that great without the auto-tune. She wears a lot of sparkly, tight-fitting dresses and has a mane of unruly golden curls that fit absolutely nowhere in Nashville. But she’s not just a “flash in the pan” as Rayna might hope – people like her, people want to meet her, and people want to sleep with her (and they do).
But while Juliette has been played up in the promos to be a snippy bitch on wheels – and believe me, she definitely is – the writers have given her a backstory that almost makes you feel bad for her.
Her mother is a drug addict, and you can tell that Juliette spent most of her early years being neglected by her mother, and once she hit it big and the money started flowing in, her mother took notice of her daughter’s recent wealth and started contacting her all the time.
In the first scene involving a phone call from her mother, Juliette seems more angry than anything, throwing her phone in the trash and telling her assistant to get her a new phone number (again), but later in the episode you see her crying in a closet at the recording studio while tearfully telling her mom she won’t give her money to enable her drug habit.
I like that the writers have tried to humanize her, because being a mean girl is only entertaining for so long. Sure, she sleeps with men to make her feel better about herself or to get what she wants, but that’s a classic neglected child trope, and I’m hoping that isn’t all she turns out to be. Because, yes, I’m looking forward to her duel with Rayna, but unlike T. Swift, I think I actually like Juliette. She gives good snarky drama.
As for the supporting cast, there’s Rayna’s band leader Deacon (Charles Esten), who’s clearly spent the last bajillion years in love with her and with whom Juliette wants to write music (and sleep); there’s Lamar Wyatt, Rayna’s powerful father (Powers Boothe of ‘Deadwood’), and Eric Close as Rayna’s husband Teddy whose made some really poor real estate investments leaving the family rich on the outside, poor on the inside.
When Lamar decides to put Teddy in the race for mayor (because he’ll be able to control what Teddy does as mayor, presumably), Rayna is having none of it, because she knows that it’s a power play of her father’s. And also because she’s already committed herself to singing at the announcement of the other man running for mayor, Coleman Carlisle (Robert Wisdom of ‘The Wire’). In the end she stands by her man, just as Tammy Wynette told her to (yes, they actually played that song in the episode – I wonder how much that cost?), but she’s clearly only playing the part of the dutiful wife, and I have a feeling that her marriage will probably not last the season.
Rounding out the cast is Clare Bowen who plays Scarlett, Deacon’s poet-turned-songwriter niece, who steals the last 10 minutes of the show with her duet with her coworker. Seriously, I had chills listening to her voice. And I have a feeling that she’s going to be very important to Rayna and her story as it plays out the rest of the season.
This isn’t ‘Smash’ for the country music scene, folks. I know that I gave ‘Smash’ a great review for its pilot, but then I quickly realized my mistake and that the show was as much of a mess as the Marilyn musical it was supposed to be about. I dropped the show from my weekly rotation by episode four. But this pilot has established a much different world, a much more interesting world than the New York Broadway scene of ‘Smash.’ I haven’t seen any more of the episodes yet, but I think it’s safe to say that if Britton and Panettiere continue down this path, this show is not going to be one that you hate watch. It’s going to be must see television this season. If nothing else, watch it to get your weekly fix of Mrs. Coach.
Note: Photo courtesy of ABC.