There was a civic sigh of relief when the pilot of ABC's Nashville ended; the city relaxed as the show avoided all the obvious stereotypes and caricatures of the city. The only cowboy hat in the opening episode sat atop the diminutive dome of Little Jimmy Dickens hiding in the background at the Opry. No one rode a horse down Fifth Avenue, and all the characters wore shoes.
If anything, the show portrayed Nashville as more cosmopolitan than it really is: The cinematography presented a vibrant, postcard-perfect downtown; Powers Boothe earnestly declared the city "a cultural and industrial juggernaut" while sipping a big glass of red wine at Oak Bar.
Thankfully, the show is not Hee Haw. But it's not Treme either: David Simon ain't walking out of the Hermitage Hotel bathroom. Nashville is a broadly drawn ball of city-centric soapy goodness — with a basic conflict of real McCoys battling the poseurs.
It's not trying to be The Wire. It's trying to be Dallas.
And knowing that it's aiming for the melodramatic heights of that iconic prime-time classic — what Boothe would call a "cultural juggernaut" —we can look into our rhinestone ball and see how four major story lines will unfurl.
1. Rayna James and "If I Didn't Know Better"
The Civil Wars' haunting, beautiful "If I Didn't Know Better" capped the pilot, performed by Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio).
It just so happened that legendary producer Watty White (a note-perfect piece of typecasting for J.D. Souther) was hanging at the Bluebird and immediately pulled out his cellphone to call Rayna James (Connie Britton).
Thus, we have the season's MacGuffin, its analog to Casablanca's letters of transit and Marsellus Wallace's lit-from-within briefcase.
Rayna will want to record the song — she'll persuade ex-lover and guitar player Deacon Clayborn to sing the male part — but having walked out on her label, how will she release it? She'll have to do the one thing she's never had to do to get ahead and the one thing she vowed in the pilot to never do: She'll have to ask daddy Lamar for a loan, thereby allowing the devious industrialist to get his claws into the one person he could never really control.
Rayna will have great success with the song and go back to the well for more Scarlett-penned lyrics, setting up the classic understudy-star conflict that's been a part of Western literature since before Cyrano first spied Roxane. Scarlett will want to get her due, but Rayna — back on top again — will show she's not as sweet as we might believe.
2. The mayoral race
The race for Nashville mayor between do-gooder Coleman Carlisle (The Wire's Robert Wisdom) and Rayna James' husband Teddy Conrad (Eric Close) sets up as the classic battle between the Genuine Article and the Poseur.
Conrad — some kind of failed developer type — is running with the encouragement of his father-in-law, while, we have to suppose, Carlisle's intentions are more pure.
We in Nashville have seen this movie before. A pro-business candidate married to the daughter of powerful industrialist? He's a shoo-in.
The creators of Dallas wrote the show with the idea it'd be the story of the rivalry between the Barneses and the Ewings, with Bobby Ewing's wife, Pamela Barnes Ewing, the main character, stuck in the middle between rival clans.
They soon discovered that the conniving, womanizing J.R. was their breakout character. It's easier for an audience to love to hate someone than it is for them to learn to love someone. Nashville has its own over-the-top schemer in Powers Boothe's drawling Lamar Wyatt, a man who still wears three-piece suits, and is the only guy in town rocking a fedora unironically. Even in the first hour of the pilot, he's shown he's willing to do damn near anything — including blackmailing his own daughter — to get what he wants.
As the show develops, bank on more and more Lamar as he sticks his greasy, grimy paws into everything. He'll control his daughter, and he'll control city hall. He'll get Deacon in his clutches and he'll even get Juliette — my guess through some compromising photos (or a sex tape — how 2012!) or by promising to take care of her meth-addled mother.
Lamar will end the season on a high — in charge of all he sees — and it'll piss off everyone. But he has to be at the peak for the inevitable fall (and probable murder attempt at the end of season 2).
4. Juliette and her men
Who is Hayden Panettiere's, um, bouncy Juliette Barnes going to sleep with?
Probably everyone with a Y chromosome.
She's already bedded Deacon and set her eyes on Scarlett's hip East Side boyfriend Avery.
It seems odd she'd be interested in usurping Rayna — whom she didn't seem to care much about — but Juliette has momma issues (and, based on her promiscuity, more daddy issues than a performance of King Lear) so maybe she sees Rayna as another momma figure she's got to overcome.
But whatever her motivation (and it may just be ambition), she wants to beat Rayna into an irrelevant pulp.
She'll seduce Avery in an attempt to demoralize Scarlett, but that will backfire. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and hits hath no fuel like a songwriter spurned. Scarlett will write some brilliant chart-topper for Rayna just as some scandal befalls Juliette (maybe outed as a lip-syncer at the Ryman) and the ingenue will have to turn to the one man who can fix everything (for a price): Lamar.
How things get fixed will likely be as entertaining as how things get messed up. We'll be watching.
Olivia Lind contributed to this story.
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