I finally get to start an article the way I’ve long dreamed: by addressing the haters. Dallas was not like Dallas, Miami Vice was not like Miami (probably), and Twin Peaks is actually quite dissimilar to the Pacific Northwest. If your personal Nashville is your church group, puking in dive bars, or cycling and quinoa, Nashville was probably unrecognizable to you.
But please, try to hold off on the nitpicking for a moment and view the pilot for it for what it was: a primetime drama on network television, set in Nashville, that treated the city like a city and not like a joke. That, in my eyes, is a success for Nashville.
Luckily, the show’s also a success at sorting out the nuts and bolts of primetime soaps. Last night we met and learned the agendas of all the major players. Connie Britton is Rayna Jaymes, a 40-something household name in country music whose star is on the wane. On the horizon is Hayden Panettiere as young Juliette Barnes, a red-hot crossover act with an attitude. They’re introduced at the Opry, where suits backstage want Juliette to play nice so weak-selling, arena-half-filling Rayna will agree to go on tour as (shock! horror! gasp!) the opening act.
Their meeting doesn't go well. (Apologies to all who took the drinking-game challenge and lapsed into alcohol poisoning shortly after the "bitchface" round.) Rayna shouldn’t feel too glum, though, as she also meets superfan and Bluebird Cafe server Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) backstage, accompanied by her twerpy Americana-act boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson). Sound the hipster alarm! Scarlett is the niece of Rayna's foxy guitarist Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), who's been with her (and we suspect with her) over many years. But somebody else is scoping out Deacon backstage: his own superfan, Juliette.
Oh, what to do about Juliette? She’s popular with the kids (including, in a good gag, Rayna's), and that brings to mind Taylor Swift. But it’s soon clear that Juliette isn’t nearly as sickly sweet as that. She’s ambitious, poaching (re: banging) the best producers and songwriters in the business starting with Rayna's. She zeroes in on Deacon, who's been pining for married Rayna forever. Even so, by nighttime-soap standards, Juliette’s by no means a full-on villain. She’s Little Girl Lost, using sex as a method of coping with the pressures of being a wealthy up-and-comer stuck with a junkie mother.
No, the real villain of the show is Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), who, as James’ father, uses her star power as a prop for his political career. His devilish machinations so far only include a riverfront baseball field, though I’d like for him to go full-on Tennessee Politics with it and attempt to ban gays from using public services or expel all redheads from the state for being witches — you know, the usual. (Side note: Expert use of the riverfront locations in this scene.)
He’s also roped in Rayna’s husband Teddy Conrad (Eric Close) for a mayoral run, in order to keep a politician always in his pocket. Too bad nobody consulted with Rayna, who's already pledged to sing at a mayoral campaign rally for old friend and apparent Howard Gentry surrogate Coleman Carlisle (The Wire's Robert Wisdom).
Maybe we’re supposed to get the impression that Teddy is a bad husband who lost the family fortune. So far, though, he seems like a decent stay-at-home dad taking a pragmatic look at his wife’s career. I just don’t get a “life-ruiner” vibe from him. In fact, Wyatt is able to persuade Rayna to support her husband’s campaign by dredging up the ugly secret that her younger child (double shock! horror! gasp!) isn’t even Teddy’s. Who’s the crappy spouse again?
Back at Hillsboro Road's favorite shush-pit, tiny meek doe-eyed Scarlett takes to the stage to sing her "poems" for the very first time, and OMG she’s never even used a mic before, she is so nervous! (There’s your Swiftian parallel.) But don’t worry: Rayna’s still got friends in this town like old-school producer Watty White (played by real-life Linda Ronstadt/Eagles wingman J.D. Souther), who risks losing an arm holding up his cell phone mid-set at the Bluebird so Rayna can hear this hot new talent. Will said talent help her take Juliette down a few pegs? Almost certainly, but tune in next week to find out anyway!
• I hope you didn’t take the drinking game seriously, because the “establishing shot” alone would have killed you in the first 15 seconds.
• Spotted in first episode: David Alford, Jeremy Childs, The Del McCoury Band (with a guitar-envy joke), Ed "The Foreclosure King" Amatrudo.
• Characters to be dealt with later: Rayna’s sister Tandy (ugh, these names), their father’s protege; and Gunnar (Sam Palladio), seen duetting with Scarlett at the Bluebird on her (actually, The Civil Wars') song "If I Didn't Know Better." Did anyone else have a hard time differentiating between the pretty boys at the Bluebird? Like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in there.
• Stirring recitation of The 16th Avenue Psalm: "Thank God for Auto-Tune."
• I want a Junkie Mom spinoff.
• Characters' music all sound Music Row facsimiles, composed by people with sound Music Row credentials (e.g., Bob DiPiero, Shane McAnally, Kyle Jacobs, etc.). Can't wait to hear what they come up with for "dead sexy East Nashville hipster" (TM) Avery. Hoping for Infinity Cat.
• Money matters: What kind of terrible investments turned the Jaymes clan “cash poor?” Uh-oh, was her husband responsible for that giant hole on West End? In any case, it’s kind of a weird idea that a supposed superstar is one step away from losing the (seemingly modest) family McMansion. Being a woman in her 40s in a shallow industry is enough drama; pretending that the repo man will come knocking any day unless she makes bank on tour might be stretching it.
• Lamar Wyatt: “This isn’t a backwater hamlet, this is an industrial and cultural juggernaut!” Haven Hamilton: "This isn't Dallas, it's Nashville!" Discuss.
• Future landmarks I’d like to see: Church Street gay district, Melrose Billiards, the Mercy Lounge smoking porch, and the BP at 5 Points. That’s my Nashville, and ... well, it’s a very different show.