Last fall, ABC’s Nashville introduced us to Rayna James (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights), a country music queen whose career is on the downswing. Her production company has an idea – team her up with hot young ingenue Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes) – and Rayna can rise to the top again. It’s synergy made in production heaven.
As the 21 episodes of The Complete First Season, now available in a five-disc DVD set, reveal, things are quite a bit more complicated. For one, Rayna and Juliette do not get along in the slightest, both having preconceived notions about one another, and clashing upon meeting. For another, they’d both like to work with Rayna’s long-time guitar player and former lover (and recovering alcoholic), Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten, Big Love, Enlightened).
On the home front, Rayna’s life is no easier. Husband Teddy Conrad (Eric Close, Without a Trace) is involved in politics, as is Rayna’s manipulative father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe, Deadwood), and close family friend Coleman Carlisle (Robert Wisdom, The Wire), making the race for mayor of the big city quite messy. Toss in Rayna’s heir-apparent sister, Tandy (Judith Hoag, Big Love), and Rayna’s daughters, Maddie (Lennon Stella) and Daphne (Maisy Stella), and it’s no wonder Rayna is distracted on the road, priorities warring for attention.
As Juliette struggles to stay in the public eye, her every decision becomes gossip fodder, fueling her perception (somewhat warranted) as a diva. Whether she’s going through tumultuous relationships, dealing with addict mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies, The Notebook), or fighting with manager Bucky (David Alford, Stoker), she is constantly judged, and her motivations dissected. Nashville shows us the pressures of someone in this position, a timely tale in today’s celebrity-obsessed world.
Nashville may center on the big stars, but it also takes us to the other end of the music scene. Deacon’s niece, writer Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen, The Clinic) is just getting started, unintentionally being found in a bar along with her performing partner, Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio, Episodes). Gunnar is love with Scarlett, complicating the arrangement, especially as Scarlett is with Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson, General Hospital), a band leader who soon becomes jealous of his girlfriend’s success.
If you think that’s a sprawling cast, you’d be right. But it takes that many people to keep a soapy drama chugging along week after week, as broadcast television demands a lot of installments per year. Nashville holds its own on the cluttered landscape, carving a new path deserving of attention. The personal dynamics may be familiar, but the setting is fresh, the plot twists keep coming, and it’s rarely stale.
The series also boasts some fine performances. Britton is well-known among many television fans for her previous work, and it’s no surprise at the range and layers she exhibits in such a plumb starring position. What may be unexpected is that Panettiere, mostly known as “the cheerleader” from a superhero series, matches her scene for scene, a worthy partner on screen. These two women are Nashville, and they could not have been any better cast.
Of course, Nashville would be nothing if its music sucked, with songs playing such an integral part in the production. Thankfully, there is a crack team behind the original numbers, delivering us ballads, pop standards, and moving soul-searchers, with a bit of rock tossed in here and there. There aren’t any real duds, and the musical numbers are often delivered with great effect, not being forced or squandered to fill an episode. As someone who isn’t even really into the country genre, there is still plenty to appreciate in Nashville.
There are a smattering of special features in this release, nothing groundbreaking, but serviceable enough. Deleted scenes and bloopers, the go-to inclusions, are present, along with a trio of featurettes about the titular city, the music behind the show, and a set tour. Unfortunately, there are no commentaries, and the extras are short on time with the actors, which is a bit of a disappointment. Who doesn’t want to see Britton and Panettiere talk about one another and the show? Perhaps that will be made up in future season sets? Still, combined with the episodes, worth a look.
Nashville – The Complete First Season is available now.