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It's difficult to fully predict the success of a series by its pilot episode alone, but ABC's new drama Nashville is brimming with potential. Even those of us with limited interest in the country music scene could easily be swept away by the character drama in this one. Nashville's premiere episode introduces us to the competitive world of country music and some of the people looking to make it or keep it in the industry, including a singer whose star has begun to dim as another's has only just begun to shine.
Created by Callie Khouri, Nashville stars Connie Britton as Rayna James, a successful 40-year-old country singer who is coming to realize that the best days of her career may be behind her. She's being encouraged by her label to open for and tour with Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the hot new country singer who's climbing the charts. Rayna and Juliette meet face-to-face near the start of the episode, and we soon learn two key things; Rayna is threatened by Julliette and Juliette is well aware she's young and hot. She even manages to get a dig in about her youth (and Rayna's age) when they meet. It's subtle, but both of these women know what they're facing.
What Nashville's pilot does really well is plant little seeds for drama in the first episode, as we learn that Juliette isn't above using sex to further her career, and that her musical ability doesn't come as naturally for her as it does for others. Panettiere plays the role up as a young woman who has enough experience in life to know how to get what she wants, but Juliette is also vulnerable in some places. It's that side of her that actually makes her more interesting and less of a one-note bad-girl character.
Britton is fantastic as Rayna James. As a fan of her in Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story, I'm glad to see her playing a lead role in new series, and Nashville benefits greatly from her talent. Just as Juliette isn't all bad, Rayna isn't completely perfect. She's a seasoned musician with the kind of wisdom that age and experience brings and still young enough to have some fire in her (and likely, plenty of years left on her career if she plays her cards right), but she has choices to make and there are emotional issues that factor in, not to mention pride.
Rayna also has a number of men in her life who affect her in varying ways, including her wealthy and controlling father Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), her husband Teddy (Eric Close), who's looking to pursue a political career and seems well aware that he was Rayna's "second choice," and Deacon Clayborne (Charles Easten), Rayna's ex-love and sometimes-songwriter.
There are also some wildcards in the series, like Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen), a family-friend of Rayna's who proves to have a natural gift for singing and writing, and Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), a young aspiring musician. There's a lot of potential in their stories too.
And that's really what it all comes down to with Nashville. I wouldn't consider myself a huge country music fan, so my interest in this series comes less from the music - which comes in the form of performances, practices and recording sessions (no one's bursting into song in this series - it's not that kind of musical) - as it does from the stories we're going to see play out as we get to know these characters.
It seems fitting that Nashville should fill the spot vacated by Revenge on Wednesday nights, as this is the kind of show that could really heat up. The music is at the heart of the show, but the drama is its driving force. There are a lot of characters, and it may take a little while to get to know everyone's names, but with Britton's Rayna and Panettiere's Juliette at the center, Nashville is already primed to be a winner. The pilot is a little bit country and a lot of drama, which makes it well worth checking out.
Nashville premieres tonight (Wednesday, October 10) at 10:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
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