Nashville: Season 1
Back in 1975 one of my favorite films was released, ‘Nashville’ by filmmaker Robert Altman. It looked at the lives of numerous people in and around the country music business employing Altman’s signature ensemble cast and multitude on intersecting plot threads. Much more recently ABC premiered a prime time drama of the same title and pretty much the same premise. This ‘Nashville’ had a smaller cast of principle character, albeit not by much, but with considerably more time to explore the themes a significantly greater depth in examining this world’s hub for musical talent. Wherever there is an assembly of exceptionally talented performers businessmen flock; promoters, agents, lawyers and executives all hone in on the ones with ability like a money seeking missile. The television series had an opportunity to go beyond the scope of the iconic film by probing the emotional and psychological impact the quest for fame and for those rare few, it attainment have on the performers and those closest to them must contend with. The result was admittedly a prime time soap opera with all the connotations that brings but it embraces its format rising quickly to one of the better dramatic shows currently on TV.
As is routinely the case the country music world there is a firmly established hierarchy. Due to the mercurial elements of the business and its dependency of the vagaries of the fans tastes that ranking as defined by the trade publications change on a constant basis. This provided the basis for the drama and intensity that quickly became the trademark of the show’s success. You might think that this series was targeted to fans of this type of music but that would unjustly deny the broad appeal the show generates. Expertly infused in all the personal drama and business oriented intrigue is a significant amount of real music. The three leading characters Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) were play by a trio of women with excellent, well trained voices. As far as I can ascertain there is no use of auto tune here, just a group women that can really sing. Not only does this impart a degree of realism to the production but also naturally placed musical numbers that are quite entertaining, for fans of country music there is a nicely subtle touch. The titles of each episode are a song by the king of country music, Hank Williams.
Rayna Jaymes is a superstar, the queen of Nashville and has been for a respectable number of years. She has let her focus on her career wane in favor of being a wife to her husband, Teddy Conrad (Eric Close) and mother to her daughters, Maddie and Stella, played by real life sisters and singers, Lennon and Maisy Stella. This understandable change in life’s priorities combined with the natural changes in the musical scene placed Rayna’s star in decline. As is always the case there was a younger, ambitious singer eager to take her place, Juliette Barnes. Their approach to the musical genre is radically different. Rayna is old school Nashville, a traditionalist with a long established fan base. In contrast Juliette is reaching out as a crossover artist intent on fame extending beyond county. Like many young stars that attained notoriety rather rapidly Juliette is followed by the paparazzi just waiting for a mistake which inevitably happens. Submitting to personal pressures Juliette shoplifts a minor item in a drug store which immediately goes viral threatening her career. Her management goes into spin control to salvage her reputation. These two plotlines are among the first on a collision path. The record labels and management teams come up with an ideal to put them on a joint tour. The idea is the media attention surrounding Juliette will bolster Rayna while Ryana’s solid reputation would legitimatize the wild child reputation of the young diva. The problem might be predictable; the older and younger women hate each other, but the execution is what makes this series special.
Although both Rayna and Juliette are different in their approach to expressing their art they are both household names. What is needed and expertly achieved was to introduce an exceptionally talented unknown. This brings us to Scarlett O'Connor. This pretty, homespun blonde is initially part of a song writing team with her friend, Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio). Her connection to the primary characters is Scarlett is the nice of Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), a guitarist who was with Rayna during her height and her former lover. While Scarlett sees herself as a lyrist she has a spectacular singing voice. The only inherence to her taking center stage in her own right is her shyness. This cannot be said for her boyfriend, Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), whose only concern is for his own lust for fame. This character permits the use of the perennial favorite ploy point of a front man betraying his band mates to grab a big break for himself.
While the struggle to obtain or retain fame remained the focal point of the show it is the rich texture of personal entanglements and emotional threads that serve to bind the main plots together. Rayna’s father Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe) is an influential political power broker who talks her husband, into running for major. The schism in their marriage is exasperated by each having to devote their time to the changes in their careers. Juliette’s mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies) is a drug addict; a condition that has alienated mother and daughter. The threads that make sure the level of interest is always at a high point include a sex tape, issues with sobriety, online rumors and professional jealousy. Sure most of these techniques are ripped straight from the prime time soap operas but with a difference. The writers use these time proven methods to serialize an interesting story. The music industry is an ideal venue for telling a complex and intriguing story that will capture and hold your attention. Fame is a commodity that fascinates most people. We yearn for it and are captivated by those that have attained it. This series offers a wonderfully crafted look at this elusive goal from a variety of vantage points. Juliette is struggling to reach the top as Rayna works to retain her spot at the apex of her craft. While the two postures for supremacy on their mutual tour with mind games and posturing, young Scarlett is trying to cope with fame she never sought coming at her. This is contrasted with Avery’s willingness to step on anyone and everyone on his path to what he sees as his destiny. ‘Nashville’ is set for a second season that should be another hit fir ABC.