Musical dramedies are all the rage, y’all. From quirky TV vet “Glee” to the still struggling “Smash” to the sort-of box office hit “Pitch Perfect,” Hollywood isn’t looking to stop the random outbursts of singing and dancing any time soon. The latest offering is the twangy soap opera “Nashville,” which succeeds mostly because of the near perfection of Connie Britton’s fabulous hair and Hayden Panettiere’s fabulous rack.
For real, though – “Nashville” is pretty good. It’s not great, because it veers more toward the dramatic seriousness of behind-the-scenes in the music biz a la “Smash” than the over-the-top corniness of “Glee,” but it has star potential, and not just because there are sultry blondes and scruffy plaid-wearing cowboys and a trickle of good ol’ Southern politics.
Connie Britton, who was perfect in “Friday Night Lights” as a football mom and perfect in “American Horror Story” as a haunted mom, is still perfect as a country queen (and mom). Her Rayna James is a Faith Hill/Martina McBride type, not quite old enough to be a Reba McIntire, but not quite fresh enough to be a Miranda Lambert. She’s country music royalty, but her star is fading. People aren’t flocking to her concerts anymore, and her latest record just isn’t selling like it should be (damn you, Spotify and music piracy!). Even though this doesn’t really make sense because Connie Britton is beyond charming and drop-dead gorgeous, Rayna’s management comes up with the solution of sending the former face of country music out on the road with the future face of country music – Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes.
Panettiere has gone from “save the cheerleader, save the world” to “sleep with everyone, get lots of money” and it’s super awesome. She plays the rising starlet Juliette with the sugary sweetness of Taylor Swift… if T.Swift was a venomous diva with mommy issues and a penchant for skin-tight, sparkly dresses. Juliette is the princess of country-pop, the kind of uber-pretty blonde who sings about how her mama told her to never trust “buses and boys.” Her singing voice leaves much to be desired, but the show’s creators give viewers a little wink when Juliette’s producer mumbles, “Thank god for autotune.”
Just like “Smash,” there’s a collection of other players, some good, some not. Chip Esten (from “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” — not joking) plays Deacon, Rayna’s songwriter, lead guitarist and ex-BF. The friend-zoned cowboy still harbors feelings for Rayna (obviously, because Connie Britton is beautiful) but he’s also too easily swayed by Juliette’s batting eyes and perky boobs. Speaking of friend-zoned, the pilot also introduces aspiring singer Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio, who hides his British accent with a Southern one), who pines after Deacon’s niece/bar waitress/poetry writer Scarlett (Clare Brown, who hides her Australian accent with a Southern one), who’s all “they’re poems, not songs” but of course sounds like an angel when Gunnar finally convinces her to do an open mic sesh. The non-songbird cast includes Rayna’s out-of-work hubby Teddy (Eric Close, who suddenly wants to run for mayor after gentle coaxing/bribery from Rayna’s controlling, probably kind of evil daddy (Powers Boothe). The secondary storyline about Teddy‘s decision to run for mayor feels uneven and almost unnecessary.
The heart of “Nashville” is obviously the rivalry between Rayna and Juliette. The pilot didn’t put them in enough scenes together, but the ones they did share were full of catty sparks and bitchy greatness. Neither of them really has the vocal chops to pass as songstress superstars, and their Tennessee accents are mostly meh. They’re both more-than-capable actresses, though, and it’s clear with Connie Britton’s brush-hair-over-the-shoulder “sweetheart, puh-lease” and Hayden Panettiere’s narrowed-eyes “grandma, puh-lease,” that they’re having way too much fun.
The drama needs to be careful, though: A behind-the-scenes-of-a-Broadway-show shtick sounded great until “Smash” got really boring, really fast. The behind-the-scenes-of-the-country-music-industry “Nashville” could easily fall victim to the same fate. “Nashville” needs to keep the politics in the background and focus more on the music and its other strengths. And “strengths” obviously means Connie Britton’s fabulous hair and Hayden Panettiere’s fabulous rack.
Speakeasy rating: B
Wednesdays, 10 p.m.