18
Oct
2012
Nashville: Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2
Pilot / I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)
Annie
My name is Annie and I am thrilled to write my first piece for Review to be Named. I started reading everyone's work earlier this year and immediately became hooked. Going forward, I am excited to share my thoughts about Nashville, country music, pop culture, and everything in between!

This review will discuss Episode 2 (eventually, I promise), but I first want to provide a little background to why I like this show and want to share my opinions weekly.

To be frank, when I first saw previews of this series in August, I approached it with some trepidation. Was this just a Glee 2.0? Another show that would grab me at first, seduce me with a healthy diet of hit songs, which somehow perfectly reflected a character's dilemma, but ultimately fall flat until, heartbroken, I walked away? Could I have some songs and a real plot, too?

Would this fill the shoes of great ABC dramas of previous years, like the early seasons of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy? These TV dramas premiered in my high school days; I was introduced to a world of competing interests, complex relationships, ambition, love, and betrayal. Eventually, I was dissatisfied when these shows became roller coasters with little connection to reality (or evidence they were playfully entering the surreal). I wanted a show that could start fresh, presenting strong characters with conflicting motives, but still put a smirk on my face with great one-liners.

And how would Hollywood portray country music, the city of Nashville, and the South as a whole? For the first twenty-three years of my life, I divided my time equally between the North East and the South. While I consider myself a Yankee at heart (in the Colonial American sense of the word, not in MLB team affinity), I love the South and cringe at misconceptions or broad generalizations about such a fascinating part of the United States. Nashville is culturally rich and country music is a great American art form; I was unsure a prime time cable TV show could portray these accurately.

I have seriously digressed. I hope it is now clear I approached the Nashville pilot like I would a large, free, pizza. The outside packaging was exciting, indulgent, and promised to satisfy a serious craving. I also knew there was a high probability I would walk away with the kind of lingering regret only felt after wasting an hour of my life indulging in an instant gratification with no real depth or complexity behind the enticing package. Both food comas and TV comas leave you uncomfortably full and with a bad taste in your mouth. Was I ready to take that risk?

I took the plunge and I loved the Pilot of Nashville. The show introduced a diverse and interesting cast. Protagonist Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) is a country-music queen with a "cash flow problem." Troubles worsen when Rayna's latest record is a flop, she struggles for the spotlight in a changing music industry, and a new meteoric star, Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) threatens her position. The two are pitted against each other when their shared record label asks Rayna to "co-headline" with (in music industry speak, open for) Juliette. Rayna vows she will never open for Juliette Barnes, whom she considers talentless and crass. And so Nashville begins.

Young versus old, commercialization versus craft, ambition versus individual self"”these are not new themes or challenges for TV characters. What brought me back into Nashville for a second episode were the strong female leads and the complex web of relationships these women shared with the family and colleagues that round out the cast. Some relationships push them to continue chasing fame; others require humility, conniving, or confrontation; and lastly others serve as foils, demonstrating how far each has traveled to reach the top. Nashville succeeds by presenting familiar issues in a fresh, universal way, despite the fact the characters reside in the foreign bubble of the country music business.

With this backdrop, I tuned to "I Can''t Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)". I was curious to see how the show would develop the issues presented in the pilot. Namely, these were the future of Rayna's career; Juliette's struggle to reconcile her troubled beginning and ambition; singer/songwriter/band leader Deacon Claybourne's loyalty and (currently) unattainable love for Rayna, threatened by career potential and sex appeal wrapped in a bow by Juliette; Rayna's marriage to Teddy Conrad; his mayoral bid initiated and financed by Lamar Wyatt, Rayna's father, Nashville tycoon and the only character firmly planted in the dark side; the budding poet/songstress Scarlett O'Connor, who has a tumultuous relationship with alt-country hopeful Avery Barkley and a wide-eyed admirer in the traditional country crooner, Gunnar Scott.

"¦This list should make clear that there is a lot happening in Nashville. These plot lines merely scratch the surface of the dynamics at play in the show. There is also the constant reminder by Rayna's tween daughters that Juliette Barnes is the bigger star; Teddy's hard and fast fall in 2008 from commercial real estate ventures, which (before Episode 2) had the slightest whiff of fraud; Rayna's decision to support her husband and father's campaign, at the price of abandoning an old family friend, Coleman Carlisle; the turbulent relationship between Rayna, her sister, and her father; and Juliette's methamphetamine-addicted mother, who keeps attempting to join her daughter's new life.

The number of relationships with potential for full-fledged storylines in Nashville is daunting. There is definitely vulnerability for characters to become inconsistent between time and place, leading to the show to devolve into a disjointed mess. If done well, however, these secondary story lines can keep the show fresh each week while highlighting each main character's nuances.

The first few minutes of "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You),"
were slow. Characters had to circle back from their opening scenes to where the pilot had left their stories. The writers worked hard to keep laying expository groundwork for impending future conflicts. However, it did not always work: Rayna's meeting with Coleman to apologize for the revoke of her support, simultaneously showcasing the long friendship between the Carlisle and the Jaymes families and allowing Rayna to play sleuth to determine her father's motives in the election, felt long and forced. As we saw in the Pilot, Rayna is too familiar her father's goals (money, power, influence) and the tactics (anything and everything) he will employ to reach them. Here, Rayna acts oblivious to her father's character. This scene lacked purpose in the greater story. Could there really be future significance of the scrapped baseball stadium in Nashville that caused the falling out between Lamar and Coleman? I am skeptical.

I had the same initial (disappointed) reaction when Teddy informs Rayna they both need to undergo a "Vulnerability Study," i.e., Opposition Research, for his campaign. Her indignation was predictable and unconvincing. However, watching Rayna and Teddy's interviews with the campaign representatives were ultimately rewarding. Each were put in the hot seat, forced to explain elements of their past they would rather forget. We learned new information about each character (Teddy's departure from a credit union board while his real estate investment was failing, adding suspicion to the legality of his activities in 2008; a glimpse of the depth of Rayna's eleven year romantic relationship Deacon: its abrupt end while remaining a musical couple, Deacon's time in rehab, and how there may have been more overlap between Deacon and Teddy in Rayna's romantic past than she will admit). While Rayna's story seems juicier (two characters and two shared love triangles"”oh my), I think Deacon's business past will take center-stage in future episodes, implicating more members of the Nashville community than we might expect. Interestingly, the researchers also ask Teddy if he ever had an affair during Rayna's long months of touring. Teddy immediately denies any such activity, but something tells me the truth of this statement will come into question once again in the future. A good secret will never stay hidden long, especially in a political campaign.

While I did not enjoy Rayna and Coleman's meeting, I did enjoy a scene it teed up, which showcased one of Nashville's most defining themes. Coleman later met with Lamar to confront his drop of support. Each man maintained his earlier decision regarding the baseball stadium construction. (Is there always money in the baseball stadium?) Coleman tells Lamar his pride has lead to this fight, which Lamar will ultimately lose. As with the advent of Juliette at the top of the country music charts, Coleman's challenge to Lamar showcases the rise of a next generation of leaders, much to the old guard's chagrin. This parallel challenge is fun as it foreshadows a feisty campaign in the future. Better yet, it serves as a satisfying parallel to the challenge between Rayna and Juliette. I look forward to watching in future weeks as each character fights to stand their ground. I predict Rayna will have more of her father's instincts than she would like to admit.

Thus far, I most enjoy the dynamic between, and contrasting personas of, Rayna and Juliette. Both women struggle to reconcile their celebrity personas, inner self, and career ambitions. Each sees something in the other that they crave. Juliette wants the respect Rayna commands, the (apparent) stability in her personal life, and the lifelong career and fame. On the other hand, Rayna sees the freedom of Juliette's youth, her favor in the marketplace, take-no-prisoners attitude, and upward trajectory as the very things jeopardizing her survival. Ironically, what each woman craves is the other's weakness.

One of my favorite scenes in the episode focuses on the moment when Juliette's $50,000 guitar is delivered, disrupting Rayna and Deacon's tour rehearsal. The guitar case with giant red bow served as a great elephant in the room, emphasizing Juliette's continued assault on Rayna's stronghold in the country music world. On the other hand, the quips back and forth between the women give me a bit of cognitive dissonance. Rayna can dress-down a music executive without batting an eyelash, yet feels the need to out-sass someone at least fifteen years her junior? While I feel uncomfortable watching these exchanges, they only highlight Rayna's vulnerable inner-self cracking the polished veneer of a superstar.

I am also pleasantly surprised how much I enjoy the music in the show. The songs compliment, rather than define, the action between the characters. Juliette's "Love Like Mine" and "Telescope" highlight the serious market power of cross over hits that can determine the path of a career. These contrast with Rayna and Deacon's "No One Will Ever Love You," which captivated previous generations of country music audiences and is loved by many still in 2012. "If I Didn't Know Better," presents the resurging country-folk hybrid that has grown in popularity and commercial success in recent years. All three are important strains in country music today. To only present one form would shortchange the multifaceted genre as a whole.
At the end of the episode, I am still happy with Nashville. The interweaving story lines kept my attention all night; I merely scratched the surface of the interesting relationships at play in this review. Next week I hope to delve deeper into some of Nashville's most complicated relationships.

Wishlist for next week: More of Rayna and Deacon's two shared love triangles. Singing together in the Bluebell Café opened up the Pandora's box of their relationship. After witnessing their palpable chemistry on stage, Juliette stormed out of the Café. Juliette is embarrassed and livid that she has not won Deacon. Something tells me she'll be back on his trail with a vengeance. Combine these with the escalating strain placed on Teddy and Rayna's marriage during the campaign, there is a perfect storm ahead.

Thanks for sticking it out for my entire review. Looking forward to next week!



Grade: B


Favorite Lines and Random Thoughts:

-As mentioned, at times the writing felt forced and stale. Other times, there was a great combination of dialogue, setting, music, and parallel story lines that helped bring the characters, their complex relationships, and conflicting motivations alive. I would like to see more crisp writing and some of the weaker story lines that have not added values in Weeks One and Two cut from the show. (Sorry Jonathan Jackson, I am looking at you.)

-I think Connie Britton's Rayna is a more developed and nuanced character, but Hayden Panettiere's Juliette had some great one-liners this week. Her storyline focused primarily on wooing (in more ways than one) Deacon. Hopefully she will have a multi-faceted story line next episode. Most of my favorite lines are Juliette's, which occur in conversations with Deacon. Some are (unintentionally) funny. Others showcase how she tries to manage the struggles of transitioning from adolescence into adulthood while pushing forward with her career:

-Deacon, when Juliette moves in for a kiss: "This is not how songs get written." Juliette: "No, this is what songs get written about."

-Juliette, in an original song: "Sometimes good intentions don't come across so well."

-Juliette, to Deacon: "Something about you makes me want to grow up."

-Random society ladies, asking Rayna about her latest album: "Oh do they sell [the CD] at Starbucks?" Who buys CDs at Starbucks? These women are one step ahead of Rayna, but still a step behind Juliette, who focuses on iTunes sales.

-Can Rayna's sister be more than a glorified extra, please? The two women seem to have a good rapport, unlike Rayna and her father. Familial relationships are clearly an import part of Nashville. Sister dynamics can be especially fascinating on screen.

-Towards the close of the Pilot and Episode 2, Nashville characters (Scarlett and Gunnar, Juliette) sing an original piece over a revelatory scene in another character's storyline. Scarlett and Gunnar's song in the Pilot, "If I Didn't Know Better," about a love that can't be quit, while hauntingly beautiful (reminds me of something that could have been on The Civil War's album, "Barton Hallow"), does not mesh well with Juliette's first seduction of Deacon. In Episode 2, Juliette's, "Undermine" raises new questions about Rayna and Deacon's past. The song laments lovers whose individual aspirations undercut the strength of the relationship. Juliette sings while Rayna undergoes her "vulnerability study." Rayna must explain the past and present of her relationship with Deacon. They began as a couple on and off stage, but we still do not know the full story behind the end of their partnership. Rayna stepped ahead while Deacon remained in the shadows as musical and emotional support. Did she undermine him to further her career? Or did he self-destruct while she soared? Rayna's uncomfortable explanation to the strangers in her home does not appear to be the full story. I love it when stylistic choices such as these "sing-overs" reveal depth and mystery to a relationship that will hopefully unravel slowly as the show progresses. It is unlike the Glee phenomenon described above, which only reinforced plot elements that were already crystal clear. In Nashville, I am left with more questions that answers.

-I should not be surprised I enjoy the relationship between the music, the plot, and the city this much: Nashville's creator and product, Callie Khouri, has lived in Nashville and has excellent screenwriting credits (She won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for Thelma and Louise). She is also married to T-Bone Burnett, Grammy and Oscar decorated songwriter. He most recently won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. I would love to go to a dinner party at their house!
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-Doesn't a "vulnerability study" sound like something that happens in a cult?

-Is Hayden Panettiere wearing a wig? Serious question.

-The giant statutes of naked people featured in Juliette's music video in the opening scene are real. I have yet to meet a Nashville resident who can explain how and why these statutes exist, nevertheless why they are the focal point of a large and busy traffic circle.

Tags: Nashville
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