Monday, October 15, 2012
Connie Britton stars as Rayna Jaymes, a country music singer who has been a star for 20 years, and who now finds herself in the position of being... not necessarily on the wane, but so established that she's being taken for granted. Her tour isn't selling out, and her new single isn't connecting, and her label is suggesting that she cancel her new tour and instead open for Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a new superstar on the rise. I like this angle on the plot; this is a TV show about an industry (and a country) that too often values youth over experience. Rayna's not ready to hang it up yet, and she's increasingly resentful that everyone around her (including her husband) seems to be telling her that she's had her run and it's time to step aside.
There's a lot more going on around this. Rayna's guitarist Deacon (Chip Esten, finally finding a role he's great in), a recovering alcoholic, has been hanging around her nursing his love for her forever. Her husband, angry at being cast in the role of supportive music husband, decides to run for Mayor of Nashville, an ambition fostered by Rayna's rich, apparently evil father (Powers Boothe, who is just deliciously bizarre; it's like his only direction was "Say every line as though you were Satan performing Shakespeare"). And then there's a fresh-faced poet, her unworthy boyfriend who wants to be a country singer, and the handsome bartender she's attracted to. There's a lot here. It's almost too much for the pilot to chew, except that it presents all of these conflicts as something of a show reel; it's soapy and it's just this side of completely over-the-top, but the pilot seems to have enough of a handle on its potential developments that it knows this is just a hint of introduction. It's a very confident pilot; Oscar-winning creator Callie Khouri has done something pretty great by going into the pilot as though this is the intro to at least half a season, rather than a standalone episode that could lead to more. I like it. I love it, actually. I'm going to enjoy the soapy developments and unraveling all of these relationships--every character's relationship with almost everyone else is tinged by regret or resentment or longing or some kind of sadness.
There's a lot I like in here, but I think it all really comes down to the believable atmosphere (it feels like we've been dropped into an established world with extant relationships), the quality of the music, and Connie Britton's performance. If she didn't work, nothing would. I loved her so much on Friday Night Lights, and I love her here, playing a similarly strong character who will not be railroaded by the men in her life.
I think if there's a weakness so far, it's clearly Hayden Panettiere. Her character feels like a cliche, and as sexy and pretty as she is, her performance so far has been limited to the shallow end of the pool; she plays every emotion and story beat in the most obvious way. But I also find it interesting that inside what's turning out to be a very calculating character may also be a character capable of genuine emotions. I found it sweet that Juliette cried at Deacon's live performance; her offering to sleep with him in return for the song may just be the only way she knows how to get what she wants. I like to think there may be real layers here. The pilot needs the contrast between Rayna as representative of integrity and experience, and Juliette as representative of flashy, vibrant, hollow corporatism. Maybe in the weeks ahead we can dissect how both of those representations may not be entirely accurate.
I really hope we can, because this pilot has me looking forward to a lot more.