Nashville Season 1 Review: A Country Music Drama That Hits Some Great Notes

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Callie Khouri’s primetime drama about country singers living in Music City managed to build up a lot of hype before its premiere.  The series certainly had its share of problems, but ended up delivering a solidly entertaining first entry.

The pilot episode itself is something of a masterpiece.  In just under one hour, we’re taken into the heart of the country music industry and introduced to some very dynamic characters.  Without feeling overstuffed, the episode manages to give us several interesting plots surrounding famous singers, shady business investors, and some complicated romantic entanglements.  The centerpiece of all this, of course, was Rayna James and Juliette Barnes. Played to perfection by Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere respectively, these dueling country divas proved to be compelling characters and entertaining rivals.  The show did a good job of building up anticipation to their onstage teamup.  Any scene they were in was great, and any time they shared the screen together was even better.

Another highlight was the relationship between Rayna and her former guitarist Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten).  It’s clear from the start that they shared a romantic past, and their ongoing chemistry made for some great scenes.  In the excellent episode We Live in Two Different Worlds, the two share a heartbreaking conversation in which they agree that it’s not healthy for them to see each other.  It made their inevitable hookup all the more worthwhile, as they realize they can never truly be apart.

One of the most interesting things about Nashville is that it’s a network drama that seems to be trying to attain the prestige of something on cable.  You can see it clearly in episodes like Move it On Over and You Win Again, where the focus is put on character development as much as it is on plot.  In a lot of cases, this worked.  It allowed for the show to pull some bold moves, especially for its for its first season, like killing off Juliette’s drug-addled mother Jolene and having both Rayna and Deacon get into a cliffhanger car crash in the finale.  Sometimes, however, things slipped into nightime soap territory.  There were a lot of episodes like I’m Sorry For You, My Friend and When You’re Tired of Breaking Other Hearts which featured a lot of unnecessary melodrama.  It’s as if the writers were worried people wouldn’t get into a character-driven story, and felt the need to add in some “juicy” plotlines.

A lot of these plotlines revolved around the younger singers Scarlett, Gunnar, and Avery.  This brings me to my other problem with the show: too many characters we don’t care about.  I’m all for having a look at the country music industry from various perspectives, but not when some of the perspectives are extremely annoying.  Scarlett has ties to both Deacon and Rayna, and could have potentially had a great rise-to-fame story going.  Instead, it seemed everything she did involved her running back and forth between two boyfriends.  This could have been interesting too, I guess, if not for the fact that it was plainly clear who she should choose.

Another wasted opportunity was the political/business plot involving Lamar, Teddy, and Tandy, Coleman, and Peggy.  I was game for this when they introduced the idea in the pilot, especially because Powers Boothe is an excellent villain.  After a few weeks, however, it was clear this wasn’t going anywhere.  All that really happened over the course of 21 episodes was that Teddy became mayor because of Lamar, and then argued with him…a lot.  Also, he starts up a fling with Peggy, a very needy and unpleasant woman.  Perhaps this will all be brought up again in season 2, but if it’s going to be dealt with in the same way then I don’t really see the point.

I suppose I should take a few moments to talk about the actual music in the show.  I don’t claim to have any expertise on the country music genre, but the songs on the show were pretty amazing.  All the actors had fine voices, and several of the numbers were so catchy that they were iTunes single-worthy.  What I really liked the best about the music, though, was the fact that it didn’t take center stage.  It felt very authentic to have people sing only at concerts and shows, instead of randomly bursting out into a choreographed musical number in the middle of the street.

Overall, though it had some missteps, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Nashville.  The two leads were great, there was a lot of engaging storylines, and who doesn’t love a good old country song now and then.  Not everything was perfect, but it was certainly smarter and more self-assured than most other network dramas.  I can’t wait to see what comes with season 2.  Grade: B+

By Mike Papirmeister

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