Review: ABC’s “Nashville” Puts The Drama In Country Music
Series Is Set In The City’s Country Music Industry
Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere may technically headline the new ABC drama “Nashville,” but the show’s namesake city is the real star.
The pilot, which airs Oct. 9, opens with a montage of some of the city’s iconic sites, including the Opryland Hotel, Printer’s Alley, and the football stadium where the Tennessee Titans play. Scenes from the first episode were shot at the Grand Ole Opry House, the Bluebird Café, Capitol Grille, and local country radio station WSM-AM, among other locations. In one scene, the show’s star, Britton, even wears a t-shirt from Nashville’s best breakfast spot, the Loveless Café.
The series, which is shot entirely in Music City, takes advantage not just of famous locations, but famous people as well. In a backstage scene at the Opry, bluegrass legends the Del McCoury Band are among those making un-credited cameos. Expect to see more of those as the show continues to air.
“Nashville” is set amidst the drama of a changing music industry, with a parallel plot involving the city’s political power brokers. A third sub-plot, involving some minor characters who work at the Bluebird and are aspiring musicians, feels like dull filler in comparison to the riveting rivalry between country music superstar and nine-time Grammy Award winner Rayna Jaymes (played by Britton) and pop-country ingénue Juliette Barnes (Panettiere).
Both actresses are terrific, playing their roles with convincing gusto. Britton’s character is navigating both the decline of her career and family issues. Panettiere is immensely watchable in her role as a scheming, bed-hopping shrew hiding the secret of a destitute, junkie mother. While much more sympathetic, Barnes is no saint. After freaking out over her in-ear monitors at a tour rehearsal, she later apologizes to her band saying, “I’m having a diva dip.”
Musically, the two stars have little in common. Complaining about Barnes (who, in typical TV drama fashion, is in the next room overhearing the whole thing), Jaymes says, “Why does everyone listen to that adolescent crap? It sounds like feral cats to me. Why does everyone keep pretending she’s good?” In another typical drama series twist, at least two romantic triangles are revealed by the end of the first episode.
Early press on the show speculated that Panettiere’s character was modeled on Taylor Swift, but other than the curly blonde hair, and the reference to “adolescent” music, vixen Barnes bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the genuinely sweet Swift.
The pilot is packed with music in two forms—songs recorded by real country acts which serve as the soundtrack, and original songs quite credibly performed by the show’s actors, who do all their own singing. The original songs are mostly quite good, and hold up nicely against the soundtrack’s real country hits.
Refreshingly, the show largely avoids stereotypes, including cowboy hats, hay bales, and steer horns, something the Nashville music industry had feared from it when the show was first announced. Most of the actors even credibly pull off Southern accents, with the notable exception of Australian actress Clare Bowen, who plays the character Scarlett O’Connor with a slaughtered drawl.
Overall, the massively promoted show is quite entertaining, and likely to hook fans right away—regardless of whether they care for country music or not. Even in the unlikely event it fails to gain an audience, the show has already done wonders for the national profile of the city for which it was named.
about the blogger
Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites. She previously was Nashville Bureau Chief at Billboard magazine.