TV MADNESS #22: NASHVILLE

The world of country music has never really been given its due in Hollywood. Yes there are some crossover artists but they’re really never given any respect. Besides “Walk the Line”, movies about country music are few and far between. TV shows are usually reserved for CMT and TNN. So why would ABC sink a whole bunch of money into a high-profile series like “Nashville”?

The series stars Connie Britton, last seen as the tormented wife on “American Horror Story” but best known for the stoic matriarch on “Friday Night Lights”. This time she plays Rayna James, an aging country western superstar who watches her limelight diminish as raising teen superstar Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) begins to move in.

Juliette steals her songwriter, lead guitarist and record label.

And Rayna’s label requests that she joins Juliette on tour to boost her image.

On top of this hostile takeover, Rayna is shocked when her husband (Eric Close) throws in with her scheming father (Powers Boothe) for a run at becoming Nashville’s mayor.

It looks like the series will follow the parallels between Rayna and Juliette as they smackdown for country music supremacy. The other storylines will just accent to Rayna’s frustration. Can the show survive on one central heroine to survive? My money is on Connie Britton. She’s one of TV’s strongest women. She picks her roles carefully. She isn’t afraid to risk it all. And this role was tailor made for her.

Hayden Panettiere makes a really convincing scheming diva. I hate to say this but she is way better in this villainess role than she was ever as the sweet cheerleader in “Heroes”.

I always found a coldness about the actress and this role matches it perfectly.

Powers Boothe has made a career of playing these kinds of characters so he is a welcome addition to the show.

The biggest surprise in this pilot was just how much I liked Charles Esten as Rayna’s lead guitarist Deacon. He really delivers an intriguing, vulnerable guy who probably has a few skeletons in his own closet. I hope the series develops him more especially his back history with Rayna.

The softest casting choice and for me the weakest link in the pilot was Clare Bowen as Scarlett, the waitress who dreams of Nashville stardom.

I just don’t see any electricity with the actress or her performance. She does a pretty interesting duet in the pilot but other than that she could be anyone.

The series was created by “Thelma & Louise” screenwriter Callie Khouri, who knows strong women and seems like a perfect marriage to be working with Connie Britton. Music superstar T Bone Burnett is also helping with the songs on the series. So there is lots to like here.

This really couldn’t have been a better pilot for ABC. Perfect setup, intriguing cast and creator and a medium not explored yet on network TV. Should be a swell ride!

Oh, one last thing an idea for season two, how about casting Kate Walsh as a rival for Britton since Private Practice is wrapping up this season. Food for thought.

GIVE IT: 6 episodes.

WATCH OR DVR: Watch it.

PILOT RATING:  4.5 out of 5

“NASHVILLE” AIRS WEDNESDAY NIGHTS ON ABC.

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