Nashville, Tennessee: the home of country music. And now a fiendishly addictive US drama that’s crossed the pond to channel 4.
Nashville takes the classic TV formula – a newcomer somehow disrupts the supposed static idealism of the characters’ lives. Nashville’s newcomer is country/pop singer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), record label Edgehill-Republic’s hot new artist who’s being ruthlessly marketed for a tween audience. Panettiere’s character represents a threat to the career of established country queen Rayna Jaymes (seasoned TV actress Connie Britton).
Think it sounds like a guilty pleasure for unashamed Taylor Swift fans who’ve grown out of Glee? You’re probably right, especially as episode titles like ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)’ sound like Swift songs. However, the show has already garnered Golden Globe nominations, and there’s no denying the writing talent of creator Callie Khouri, perhaps best known for producing two of the strongest and most memorable female characters of the ‘90s in Ridley Scott’s cult hit Thelma & Louise. Despite not getting many successful projects under her belt in the intervening years, Nashville could be Khouri’s return to form. She’s not afraid to make wry jokes which reflect ironically on the show itself; one ambitious singer remarks ‘if it was easy to make it in this business I guess everyone would be doing it’. On Nashville, they are.
There’s a clear affinity between country music’s treatment of heartbreak, sex and betrayal, and the use of these themes to breed scandal on TV. Putting the two together is genius; Nashville quickly establishes a love triangle between Rayna, her husband Teddy (Eric Close), and her ex-flame Deacon (Charles Esten), which is complicated by Deacon’s long-term position in her band.
Juliette Barnes also embroils herself in a wave of sexual scandal; the pilot sees her conduct secret liaisons with both her producer and Deacon. Her motives in pursuing Deacon remain unclear throughout the second episode too; maybe it’s just about sex or toying with Rayna, or Juliette could be attempting to work with Nashville’s most talented musician to gain a higher level of musical integrity than her label allows her. This ambiguity and teasing early revelations of her back story suggest that Juliette is more than a shallow diva.
A surprising element of the show is its sometimes damning attitude to Nashville’s music business. There’s a host of bureaucrats who fret only about money and believe auto-tune is the best thing since sliced bread.
But lest the cynicism they might provoke renders the show too bleak, we’re also treated to a parallel plot set at Bluebird Café, a real-life Nashville performance space for country greats and young hopefuls. Here we meet waitress/poet Scarlett, her greasy boyfriend Avery and brooding guitar player Gunnar – perfect material for another love triangle provoked by the conflict of emotional and professional relationships.
However, Nashville’s not only about music. There’s also a city politics plot, which so far has been unable to match the sheer bitchiness of the musical world, but there’s potential in Rayna’s father Lamar, general grand-standing Nashville big-wig who looks set to be the most evil and manipulative character. His placing of Rayna’s husband as a mayoral candidate enables hints at dark secrets which will hopefully reveal Teddy to be a more interesting and less spineless character than he’s appeared thus far.
Although many more scandals have been hinted at, the first two episodes of Nashville ensnare the viewer because they’ve barely scratched the surface of some intriguing characters. I’ll certainly be sticking around to find out what’s hiding beneath all the leather and sequins.