New this year, (and just renewed for a second season) is the country music drama Nashville starring Connie Britton as country music legend Rayna Jaymes and Hayden Panetierre as new sensation Juliette Barnes. Created by Callie Khouri, still best known for Thelma and Louise, this was not a show I was sure I would like, country not being a favourite genre of mine, but the show is far more of a drama than other musical shows Glee and Smash. Nashville really is a fantastic drama, and also a wonderful showcase for the two actresses.
Girl power continues with the supporting characters as the other main performers are a young couple trying to break into the business, Scarlet and Gunnar played by Aussie actress Clare Bowen and Brit Sam Palladio. These two actors come from more of a music background but Bowen has a beautiful voice and the pair’s ballads are a high point. Rounding out the girl power, Rayna’s daughters are played by Lennon and Maisy Stella, real life sisters who are YouTube sensations – just amazing singers at aged 13 and 8 – 17 million hits and counting for their cover of ‘Call Your Girlfriend’
The music producer is Khouri’s husband, legendary musician/music producer T-Bone Burnett – whose many credits include Walk the Line, O Brother Where Are Thou and Crazy Heart and many of the songs on the show are written by recognised country performers (not that I know them though!) and even though the first season hasn’t finished, two sound track albums have been released (I even saw volume 1 for sale in my local Sainsburys!)
What I love about the show is the characters. The big revelation is Panettiere who is a damn good singer and great performer but has brought a real complexity to the initially bratty character of Juliette. She is someone who does pretty much everything wrong, is overpaid and spoilt and pretty obnoxious initially. However, as the season has progressed, Juliette has become probably my favourite character. She’s fun in that she is so deeply flawed, but there is more to her than an ego maniacal pop diva. Her mother is a recovering drug addict, she has THE WORST taste in men, she treats people badly but she is undoubtedly talented – something Panettiere’s impressive vocals help sell. I particularly liked the storyline where she meets a squeaky clean football player and to her surprise kind of falls for him. His family are awful to her in a ‘we’re all good church folk’ way, and typically impulsive Juliette marries him on a whim. Naturally it fall apart, but we see her insecurities and desire for a normal family peek through.
Connie Britton’s Rayna is the heart of the show, and Britton has a warmth and likability that carries it. Rayna is a little too nice to be a star – her husband Teddy is a sleazy politician, and thankfully she split with him eventually. Rayna’s true love is her ex, Deacon. The backstory is the two of them were together for a long time, but he was a drug addict and she eventually tired of putting him into rehab and married Teddy. The big secret (for now) is that her oldest daughter Maddie is actually Deacon’s. Rayna and Deacon have flirted all season and finally got together in a recent episode, but I am sure there is more drama to come
One character who I really don’t like is Scarlett’s boyfriend Avery. As the show starts, his star is on the rise and Scarlett is just a waitress who writes poetry. He quickly becomes unbearably arrogant and ditches his band and soon Scarlett too – who wisely teams up with barman Gunnar who writes music. Together, they make beautiful music…!! And yes, eventually pair up too. However, even Avery has improved – maybe after a lot of fans and critics also listed him as an extremely dis-likeable character.
Nashville is a bit of a soap opera when you start trying to summarise the plot! But it has characters you care about, excellent performances, toe tapping music and strong storylines. Not all of course! Teddy’s political machinations with Rayna’s father Lamar – the always excellent but faintly terrifying Powers Boothe – got a bit tedious. But most of the plots that haven’t worked that well have been developed or ditched. We need to see more of Lennon and Maisy (who are actually pretty good actresses too considering they have zero experience) as they have only had two songs so far. I would also love to see more of Rayna and Juliette together. I think it has been almost a policy to keep them apart as it did look like it was going to be a bitch-off at first. However, the pair have a far more complex relationship, and not letting us see them interact much at all always leaves us wanting more. Both actresses are excellent, and both were nominated for Golden Globes – Britton losing out to Clare Danes for Best Actress in Homeland and Panatierre losing Best Supporting Actress to Maggie Smith for Downton Abbey. I bet Juliette would have been mad that she was classed as a ‘supporting’ actress!
Whether Nashville can maintain its quality going into a second season, we will see, but is has been probably my favourite new show of the season and converted me (not really) to the joys of country music!