There hasn’t been a new fall show that has been as hyped as Nashville this season. It is without a doubt the Chosen One of new dramas, a golden gem that has topped every critic’s list since the early screeners were first sent out. Getting that much good press is a double edge sword. Yes, it’s preferable to have a lot of people talking and to have them saying extremely positive things, but it also sets expectations very high which almost always leads to disappointment. But, after what feels like months of buildup, the moment of truth is upon is. And the critics were right.
It is fairly safe to say that Nashville is the best new drama of the year. Now, that is not to be confused with the best drama on TV. Then it’s not even close. But compared to other dramas premiering in the last two weeks (Elementary, Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Vegas, etc.), it is the clear winner. It will probably never be considered one of the best shows on television, but after just the pilot it’s clear that it will succeed at what it has set out to do; be an entertaining soapy drama.
Unfortunately, nighttime soaps rarely, if ever, get recognition as “good” TV. But it is equally hard to argue that shows like Desperate Housewives (the early years), Revenge, Dallas (both the original and the remake), and the like didn’t have an invested audience and it’s hard to be invested if something is bad. The key to making an enjoying nighttime soap is that it be fun; that all the scandals and the backstabbing and the affairs not drag it into so serious waters that the audience is no longer enjoying themselves. It’s a delicate line to walk and the reason many nighttime soaps inevitably fail.
But Nashville is nothing if not fun. In one hour it set up a world inhabited by the rich and famous, gave us glimpses of their deepest fears, their torrid affairs and the tragic flaws that will ultimately be their undoing. And they also sang some pretty decent songs. Because oh yeah, this is also a musical featuring original songs. Side Note: I’m not even going to go into how much Nashville succeeds as a musical. Its competition is Glee, which is ridiculous and Smash, which is only entertaining in its campiness and still probably only actually enjoyable to hardcore musical nerds, like myself, who squeal every time Bernadette Peters walks into a scene. So yes, a show that seamlessly includes (good) original music without contrived plots or suggestive lyrics about baseball bats is the clear winner in that arena. End Side Note.
Yes, there are few (ok, a lot) of cliché aspects to Nashville; the overbearing daddy issues, the drug addicted mommy issues, the idea that a woman can’t cheat on her husband without inevitably giving birth to her lover’s child, etc. And usually all these tropes would have me worried, but in the capable hands of this stellar cast it somehow all works. Connie Britton (Rayna Jaymes) is a force to be reckoned with as the fading superstar struggling to hold on to fame, but filled with so much southern charm you can barely see the desperation. And Hayden Panettiere, as the young ingénue Juliette Barnes, takes a character that could easily have been written off as merely a forced foil and given her a hurt and a sadness that helps to soften the blow of her actions.
It also helps that there is more to the show than just its soapy clichés. The relationship between Reyna and Julliete has been explored time and again ever since Betty Davis first told us to buckle up and the lengths people will go to for greed has been a well worn story as well, but I cannot think of two themes better suited to our current society. It is clear we are a nation obessed with celebrity, often forgoing talent in the process, and given the current state of economics, greed is an emotion everyone has a little better understanding of. Even ensconsed in a mansion, Mr. Reyna Jaymes admits to his daughter they are “cash poor”. In today’s world the one percent can slip into the 99 just as easily as a young blond can steal your spotlight. And when it’s not actually you, it’s entertaining as hell.
Only time will tell if Nashville has what it takes to join the ranks of the countless other nighttime soaps that have captivated audiences for decades, but based on the pilot, it’s worth watching to find out.
Nasvhille airs Wednesdays at 8/9c on ABC.
– Devin Mainville