“Nashville” is nothing more than a primetime soap opera. A really good primetime soap opera involving various storylines about country music stars, struggling musicians and politicians around Music City, U.S.A., but nothing more.
Starring the always solid Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) as country icon Rayna Jaymes — whose career is waning — and Hayden Panettiere’s (“Heroes”) Juliette Barnes as the diva who’s the hottest thing in music right now, “Nashville” could be accused of being a countrified “Smash.” Thankfully, it’s much better than NBC’s Broadway drama, er soap opera.
After a couple opening numbers, a quick display of the Rayna vs. Juliette beef — Mrs. Coach vs. The Cheerleader! — the pilot settles in to its slightly more sophisticated histrionics, which works on certain levels. With Rayna’s tour not selling well, the record label wants her to join Juliette’s tour as the co-headliner, i.e. opening act. The cat fight is on, but thanks to Britton’s skill (and Panetierre’s “Melrose Place” bitchiness) it’s pretty entertaining.
The more interesting, if completely rote, stories exist in the characters surrounding Rayna and Juliette. A scheme by Rayna’s powerful father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), involving her husband, Teddy (Eric Close), is conventional but has potential. Rayna once broke her bandleader Deacon’s (Charles Esten) heart, and their scenes together are effective conveying a tragic bond — and the potential love triangle(s) down the line. Lastly, there’s up-and-coming songbird Scarlett (Clare Bowen), who also has a love triangle on the horizon. All work better than they should on paper.
“Nashville” succeeds by embracing the most traditional tropes, not reinventing them. It sets out various unoriginal conflicts, but executes them amiably. This is mostly due to a really strong cast — Britton, Boothe and Robert Wisdom (Bunny Colvin from “The Wire”) are always great, and do enough to elevate simple material. And while Panettiere’s Juliette isn’t great, it’s more to do with the bad writing — she’s really slutty, not talented — her character receives than her performance. “Nashville” is by no means a great drama, but it’s full of superficial entertainment value and will probably be a big hit.