Wednesday March 20, 2013
Nashville: Country music drama with an all-round appeal
On The Air
By S. INDRAMALAR
Nashville has a solid cast, good music, a wonderful script ... and loads of hunky men.
NOT a fan of country music? Well, if there is one thing that could help open your mind to the genre, it is TV’s brand new country music drama, Nashville. I should know – I’ve never been a fan of country music, apart from occasionally humming along to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ Islands In The Stream when it comes on the radio, or maybe Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now. But that’s about it.
A musical drama about country music seemed a little dodgy to me at first. Images of rhinestones, steel guitars, cowboy boots and a honky-tonk immediately popped up in my mind. Still, I was curious about the show and decided to check it out. Good thing I did because Nashville has, so far, proven to be a compelling drama with rich, fleshed-out characters, a well-written script and great music.
While musical dramas like Glee deliver reworked renditions of pop classics, the music on Nashville is original and pleasantly refreshing. It’s a mix of country styles: Alternative country rock, country rock ballads and of course, country pop.
The show was, apparently, envisioned by Steve Buchanan (president of the Grand Ole Opry Group, a Nashville, Tennessee-based entertainment group) as a vehicle to sell new music. As such, renowned musicians were roped in to produce or write the songs for the show – Dan Auerbach, frontman for the Grammy-winning band, The Black Keys has reportedly produced a yet unreleased track for an upcoming episode (he also makes a cameo – watch out for it!), while other songwriters that have been recruited include Elvis Costello and Steve McEwan (who has written for country stars Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney).
Marketing strategies aside though, the series itself is written by award-winning writer Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) while her husband, acclaimed producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett is the executive music producer. This pretty much explains celebrity castings and cameos like country greats J.D. Souther (who wrote several The Eagles hits like New Kid In Town and Heartache, among others) and Vince Gill.
The story revolves around two female country singers: Rayna James (Connie Britton), the reigning queen of country who’s struggling to stay relevant, and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a rising star who is constantly being reminded how great her competition – i.e. Rayna – is, as a musician and a person.
When the series begins, Rayna is told by her record label executives that ticket sales for her upcoming tour aren’t encouraging and the only conceivable way to boost sales is if she pairs up with young Juliette.
Rayna is incensed. She doesn’t consider Juliette a true artiste, but more of a flash-in-the-pan young starlet whose songs have little musicality. It doesn’t help that her two tween daughters love Juliette. Still, it is the label that calls the shots and Rayna agrees to the match-up, begrudgingly.
So begins a tense relationship between the two. Oh, yes. there’s plenty of drama in Nashville. And it’s not just the battle between the two ladies – the show is filled with romantic entanglements (Rayna’s old flame Deacon Claybourne – played by the ruggedly handsome Charles Esten – gets caught between the women), family issues and politics (Rayna’s dad, Lamar Wyat – played to evil perfection by Powers Boothe – is the former mayor of Nashville who is extremely controlling and corrupt).
Of course, there are also loads of skeletons spilling out of closets, like how Juliette’s mother is a recovering addict, and Rayna’s husband seems to be running away from something. Oh, juicy.
But there is one thing that stops Nashville from going down the soap opera route and that is a strong script and an even stronger cast led by Britton and Panettiere (who knew they could sing?). This is a show driven by women – strong women fighting for success (and not men) and personal fulfilment.
The men, well they’re largely eye candy … which brings me to another reason why this show is so watchable: The cast is awfully pretty (and by cast I am singling out the men!).
Apart from Deacon, who I admit can get a little tiresome with his content swooning over Rayna, there is Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio) who, along with Deacon’s niece, Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen), are trying to make a name for themselves in the business. Gunnar is a dish.
Yep, if the main plot is about two established singers, the sub-plot is about three young, struggling singers like Scarlett, Gunnar and Scarlett’s louse of a boyfriend, Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson).
Some of the best tunes on the show are delivered by Gunnar and Scarlett, who perform as a duo at the Bluebird, an actual cafe in Nashville that is featured on the show.
Nashville premiered in the United States last year to positive reviews. Even Nashvillians (yes, that is a term) have embraced the show for representing their city so authentically – “country-fried but never half-baked” was one of the comments – and not in the cliched way it often is (you know, rhinestones, honky-tonk, etc).
So, release your inhibitions and give Nashville a go. Even if only to drool at the talent (I mean, good looking men. of course)!
Nashville airs on beTV (Astro Ch 712) every Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm. Reader response can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter (@MyStarTwo).