TV Report Card | 'Nashville' Season 1 Review

Overview: On “Nashville”, two divas of country music battle it out for supremacy in a war that included more hair spray and bustieres than any battle in history

Storyline Direction: At the heart of “Nashville” is the bitter rivalry between Rayna James (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes). At the core of their battle is more than just wanting to have the country music crown. It is a battle between the ages, the social classes and the overall philosophies of how a woman should get things done.

Rayna the privileged rebel daughter of Nashville’s biggest mover and shaker is desperate to return to her alcoholic ex-boyfriend who she has been making music with for a countless number of years and the father of her firstborn child.

As the season began she was in a marriage that she was going through the motions of and not even doing that great a job doing that, her attempts to hide it were pathetic. The character in a nutshell was repulsive. As much I wanted to like her because Connie Britton, who I loved as Tami Taylor ("Friday Night Lights"), was playing her she couldn’t make this despicable character take flight.

Rayna’s emotional infidelity and hypocrisy with her husband was beyond frustrating. They just don’t have a lovable protagonist here. The show is incredibly predictable when it comes to her character.

We know from the pilot that she will eventually leave her husband who has been a great father to their children and husband to her, all of this because according to the writers, we should be rooting for the star-crossed love between two characters that we have no vested interest in. Why should viewers care?

A constant peeve when it comes to TV is the pilot episode that is used to set up all of the eventual couples is predictable and the pilot for this show was no different. Jamming down our throats the couples we are supposed to be rooting for and know that no matter what the actual chemistry between actors reads, will be ignored due to this being the original vision for the show; doesn’t give the story anywhere to go. It paints the series into a corner. The melodrama is all too predictable.

The writers didn’t bother to explain why Rayna would expose her children to an alcoholic Deacon in the first place when she kept him away from his daughter due to his addiction. He could eventually fall off the wagon for whatever reason and she broke up with him to avoid the highs and lows that come with that kind of relationship. Why expose her daughters to that same situation now? The character is simply selfish.

Her beef with her dad was ridiculous. His crime was being ticked that her mother had cheated on him. What a scoundrel! Are they freaking serious? Keep in mind these are just the problems with the main character. I haven’t even scraped the other characters yet!

Before, I get to the other characters; there is another issue when it comes to the realm of Rayna. The political and business storylines were horrible. If there is one lesson to be learned for the next season it is, enough with the political intrigue. None of those plotlines were interesting. This show should stick to the music industry wheelhouse. There is more than enough ground to cover there.

Throughout the season, they didn’t even address the biggest controversy within country music. The battle between the pop and adult contemporary elements was touched on and that will be an age-old debate.

The biggest issue facing the evolution of country music is the shutting out of groups that have an actual country sound and folk influence. Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Alabama Shakes to name a few, are some of the bands that have yet to be embraced by Nashville. These are the bands that have what it takes to carry country music into the future while giving ode to the past.

These amazing bands are the heart of the divide between what country music should be about and what they are ignoring to be a part of something more commercial. Country music, in general, is currently at its most soulless. The songs’ core component is the discussion of drinking to excess, hooking up with hot chicks in the back of pick-up trucks and riding around in a truck, period.

These are the shallow observations of songwriting that have stunted the genre for the past 3 years and that timeline is being kind. This is the hot button issue of the genre; whether they embrace these bands will determine the future of the genre. This was never discussed on the show.

As for the other leading character of the series, Juliette Barnes didn’t fare any better in terms of being empathetic. She had all of the trademarks of someone we should root for. She grew up at a socio-economic disadvantage, her mother was a drug addict and she overcame all of this to become a huge star. Well, here’s the deal, that was difficult to do when Juliette was snarking at someone the entire season.

There was no one she liked or treated with any kindness. Her treatment of her mother was downright cruel. While, we were coming into it on the back end of their relationship, in terms of seeing what her mother treated her like, seeing Juliette behave that way never stopped being cringe worthy.

Her whining about never feeling loved when she chucked the football player who loved her and was more than willing to commit to her made her cries resoundingly hollow. She also fired her manager who had plucked her from obscurity and seen the talent that others had passed on and fostered her into her the mega-stardom she is so richly enjoying.

She perpetually whines about not having anyone who cares about her and yet she treated her biggest champion as a replaceable cog in the machine of her success both personally and professionally. The character is barely redeemable, if even.

As for the other characters Scarlett is one of the worst characters that were introduced on TV, as a whole, this season. Not because she is a terrible person because she is glaringly ridiculous in every capacity and every other character acts like she is perfectly normal.

Her and Gunnar’s star-crossed love was yet another predictable plot point on the show. The characters did not warrant the kind of build-up their oh-so obvious lust was leading to. Gunnar was much more likable in general.

Production Caliber: The atmosphere of Nashville was captured. The sets were well done. Scarlett’s house seemed to oscillate between looking like a run-down shack and an opulently quirky retreat. There were some regrettable green screen moments that needed more tweaking in post-production. One scene in particular where Rayna is singing to a “coliseum full” of fans was one of the most obvious cases.

Performance Quality: Connie Britton brought it as Rayna. She did her best to rise above the material and still, it was like watching a mermaid caught in fishing nets, the terrible writing dragging her down. She shined in the scenes with “her” daughters as the writers at least let Rayna be a decent enough mother.

Britton’s strongest material came when Rayna’s father, Lamar, suffered a heart attack. She gave a really poignant performance. Amidst the backdrop of all of the gaudiness of Rayna’s lifestyle, Britton gave a glimpse inside a woman who is just like the rest of us, human.

Not until, the season finale did Panettiere seem truly comfortable in the role of Juliette. The nasty character seemed to swallow her up as she was clearly left grasping for straws to make this character sympathetic from the script she’d been given. She restrained from making the over the top Juliette, a caricature which was a good move. During the season finale Panettiere stripped down the character to the essentials, that of being a young woman who had grown up to quickly. It was a more natural performance and it worked.

Eric Close who played Rayna’s husband Teddy gave an admirable performance and it made the Rayna character’s treatment of him look even worse. Sam Palladio was compelling as Gunnar as he dealt with his brother’s death and struggled to keep his dreams on track.

Charles Esten apparently needed some time to warm up and hit his stride because during the season finale, he did some incredible work that really took me by surprise. His devastating performance as Deacon plunged back into the bottle over Rayna’s most recent betrayal was terrific. It was by far the most sympathetic that any character was seen the entire season.

This is where the review is going to get tricky. Clare Bowen’s (Scarlett) wide eyed expression did not change one time during the season and her southern accent was very difficult to decipher. The greatest problem with her characterization was that Scarlett came off as a woman-child.

She was so childlike that it made any romantic pairing between her and other characters disingenuous and questionable. Why would any man want to be with a grown woman who behaves with the emotional maturity of an 8 year-old? The character was supposed to be innocent and it came off as regressed. On another note, Bowen’s vocal performances were amazing.

Musical Score: T-Bone Burnett is the Music Supervisor for the show and his influence is the reason that the quality was on the level that it was. “Fade into You” was a standout performance for the show, Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio’s voices melted together with a warm mellow that had a dreamlike quality. The song kicked the series into overdrive musically. The bar was set quite high and each week they lived up to it.

The two best songs of the season started the season and ended it. Hayden Panettiere's tearful performance of “Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again” was poignant and haunting, ending the season on a touching note. The sweetest moment of the show was when Lennon and Maisy Stella who play Rayna’s daughters, performed The Lumineer’s “Ho Hey” it was a lighthearted break from the heavy drama that often surrounded the show.

Overall Grade: C, Showrunner Dee Johnson has her work cut out for her. “Nashville” is crowded with too many faces that have no place to go. You would think amongst a sea of so many characters there would be at least one of them you could root for and that would be a false assumption.

None of these characters are loyal, honest or noble. They are as a whole despicable.  They are antagonists pretending to be protagonists. Against the bright lights of Nashville that is filled with such dramatic potential, it is a massive disappointment.

[Image by ABC]