Nashville – The ABC-TV Series So Far: Episodes 1 – 4

Long ago, oh say back in late 1975 a song was recorded by Ed Bruce. This song rose as high as Number 15 on the Billboard’s Hot Country Singles Chart. Written by Bruce and his wife Patsy Bruce, this song was what you might you’d call a mild hit.

Then in 1978, the song was covered by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson on their duet album, Waylon & Willie. This time the song had great legs, and by March of 1978, the song peaked at No. 1 and spent four weeks atop the Country Music charts. If that wasn’t enough, the song won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The name of the song?

Thought you’d never ask – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.

Here in November of 2012, a mere 37 years after Bruce and his wife wrote the song – I think a variation is needed. I’m going to call it, Mammas Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Singers. And what’s that got to do with the subject of this post – the ABC-TV hit series – Nashville?

Well darn near everything. There are three female actress/singer/songwriters on the show – the two leads: Connie Britton as Rayna James and Hayden Panettiere as Juliette Barnes, and in a supporting role, there’s Clare Bowen as Scarlett O’Connor. While each of these three are beautiful with varying degrees of success in their chosen field – Music – it all comes with a price.

Rayna James is the Queen of Country Music. She’s been at or near the top of Nashville aka Music City for two decades. But this year her cd sales are lagging, and some of her concerts have not been sold-out shows that could be described as packed-to-the-rafters. So the suits at the head of the label decide that Rayna needs a shot of youth at her side. They propose to her that she go out on tour with the nation’s biggest cross-over artist – Juliette Barnes.

James is incredulous – You want me to open for her? Yeah, we do, and we need your decision soon. Rayna stands and says, Well you can kiss my decision as it walks out the door. But Rayna James has tons of other issues besides her flagging cd sales and unfilled arenas. And these can be described in a single word – MEN. Let’s have a look.

Rayna is married to Teddy Conrad (Eric Close has the role). As the series began we were introduced to Teddy. He’s a stay-at-home Dad and he’s involved with the raising of the kids. The couple (Rayna and Teddy) despite her success, have some money problems:

Daughter: I thought we were rich
Teddy: We’re  just a different kind of rich – called cash poor.

You wouldn’t know it from their home. But yeah, below the surface they are having a cash crunch. And why is that? We aren’t quite sure but in the next few episodes we will come to learn that Teddy may have had some involvement with a financial institution that was scandal ridden and went belly up, that Teddy has an old girl friend that pops up in Episode 4 and we will learn that the flame is far from extinguished. Teddy has also been talked into running for Mayor of Nashville by his father-in-law Lamar Wyatt (Rayna’s Dad) who is played by Powers Booth, who is also another problem for Rayna.

Lamar Wyatt is a fabulously wealthy man. He’s been a mover and shaker in Nashville for a long time. He’s the kind of guy that could be described as sitting at the top of Nashville’s aristocracy. He’s also a meddlesome, controlling, power freak. We might think of Lamar as cut from the same cloth as J.R. Ewing , who was portrayed by Larry Hagman in the long running and extremely popular series – Dallas – only Lamar doesn’t wear a cowboy hat like J.R. did.

Lamar and Rayna’s mom were divorced a long time ago. He wants to help out Rayna (financially) but she won’t take a penny of his money. Their relationship has been chilly or cold lo these many years. Rayna resents Lamar because she believes he basically abandoned his kids when he divorced their mother. In her own mind, Rayna grew up fatherless.

Things get even more sticky when Lamar ‘convinces’ Teddy to toss his hat into the political arena. ‘Do you have any idea of how much power and influence you’ll have as Mayor?

So naturally, Teddy buys into the idea. Lamar writes out a check for a half of a million dollars to Rayna. But to accept the money, she’ll have to sign a consent letter of multiple conditions which would basically put her career as a country singer on hold. And at her age, any kind of lengthy time away from music would end her career. So we aren’t surprised when Rayna refuses to sign the letter of Agreement and Consent..

As we watched the first four episodes, it was clear that Rayna and Lamar are on completely different pages. But not until the 4th episode do we learn why. It was a long ago affair between Rayna’s Mom and the singer that led to their divorcing, and that has made Lamar resentful of anything about the music industry.

But wait, there’s another guy who has a major role with Rayna James. That would be Deacon Claybourne who is Rayna’s bandleader, muse, duet partner, and ex-lover. The thing of it is, that Deacon (played by Charles Esten) and Rayna, may not be lovers any more, but because they work together, the flame of attraction for each other still burns brightly.

When Rayna tell her record company that they can kiss her decision as it walks out the door, she immediately goes to seek Deacon’s counsel and advice rather than her husband Teddy. But if you weren’t sure about how much Rayna and Deacon still care about each other, it is all made crystal clear in their duet at the Bluebird Cafe in Episode 2 – No One Will Ever Love You (Like I Do).

But it’s not that simple. Lamar knows that Rayna and Teddy have two children, but one of them is not Teddy’s. Teddy is also not unaware that Deacon and Rayna still have the hots for one another, even if they don’t do anything about it. In fact, as Episode 4 opens, we have Rayna and Deacon waking up in bed together. Only – and this is a big only – it wasn’t real. It was simply Rayna dreaming.

But there’s more complications. In Episode 1, we learned that Juliette Barnes has a dark side. She cunning, and mean-spirited. Despite efforts by the recording label, and Juliette’s own manager to establish a level of cordiality between Rayna and Juliette – Juliette isn’t going to let that happen. In her heart of hearts, Juliette doesn’t want to work with Rayna, instead she wants to supplant Rayna and replace her at the top of the female country singers’ pyramid. She immediately hatches a plan to make that happen.

She wants Deacon Claybourne to come to work for her as her bandleader. And more. But Deacon, besides his attraction to Rayna is true blue and loyal. But Barnes is going to have her way. First she presents a classic and very expensive guitar to Deacon as a gift. We know it is really just the proverbial pot of honey to trap the bear, but Deacon still holds out. But after some midnight skinny-dipping, and Barnes making it crystal clear that she’s not only available for ‘more’ but she’s also supremely willing for she and Deacon to become intimate, Deacon can’t hold out any longer.

But a night between the sheets, is just a night of passion. Deacon is still not willing to leave Rayna and become Barnes’s lover AND bandleader. But conveniently, Rayna gets a sense that the vibes between Barnes and Deacon have gone beyond attraction. She senses that the moth and the flame have met with incendiary results. So she pouts about it to the extent that she and Deacon have a falling out about some musical decision they have to make – but we know better. So Deacon takes Barnes up on her offer(s). And now, she and Deacon are working together AND more.

But only if life were that simple. So, Juliette Barnes is a first class flirt. But she had another problem besides riding roughshod on her staff and management. That would be her Mom. Juliette’s Mom Jolene was a drug user, and a vagrant. In short she was Juliette’s worst nightmare. Despite Juliette’s best efforts such as constantly changing her cell phones, her Mom has been set up in Juliette’s home. But it get’s worse. Juliette was spotted in a convenience store by a trio of fans.

They captured her on a cell phone video. Yes, that’s right, she was videoed stealing a small bottle of nail polish. She thought it was no big deal. Then the police came to take her away as they too had seen the video which had gone viral. Her manager and PR person told her to wipe the slate clean by making a clean breast of it. Juliette didn’t want to but when the label suggested that they would cancel her tour if she didn’t, accordingly, she acquiesced to an interview with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.

It didn’t go well at all. In fact, Juliette managed to do the unthinkable. She dug herself into a deeper hole.

The third female singer on the show is Scarlett O’Connor, played by Clare Bowen. As the series begins she’s a poet/waitress. She’s working at the Bluebird Cafe, so on a daily basis, she’s in the heart of Nashville’s music scene. She has a full-time boyfriend, Avery Barclay, and he’s a musician himself. In a pinch at the Bluebird, Scarlett the poet, and Gunnar Scott (song writer) are paired up and do a song together. In the audience that night was Watty White, a legendary Nashville music producer. If Watty White is impressed, then you’ve truly been blessed.

Sure enough, Watty invites Scarlett and Gunnar to come to a studio, and make a demo. Gunnar is loving it, and while Scarlett can get her arms around the idea that having Watty in your corner is very good news, she is still somewhat shy about singing in public, and beyond that, she’s sensitive enough to see that her boyfriend Avery is not exactly thrilled with the idea that his girl friend has achieved a music breakthrough while he remains a struggling musician. Avery is also a bit jealous of Gunnar because he’s good-looking and smooth.

Gunnar of course is smitten not only by Scarlett’s lyrics, but also by Scarlett herself. But Gunnar knows she is committed to Avery. So even though he’s dealing with a strong attraction to Scarlett, he plans to keep his distance. Not unexpected is the fact that once Scarlett and Gunnar’s demo finally gets done – they attract an offer from a Country Music label. Of course there’s a young woman, Haley,  at the label who’s great looking and she takes a shine to Gunnar.

But what is unexpected is that after Gunnar and this young woman spend a night together, Scarlett, intending to stop by Gunnar’s apartment to discuss music, arrives early in the morning and sees this woman leaving. And she’s a bit jealous. And do I have to tell you that Avery resents the vibe between Scarlett and Gunnar. Avery also resents Scarlett being on the fast track musically. But I mentioned that already.

What else? Juliette flirted with Avery. Teddy is about to have an affair with his ex. Lamar, Rayna’s father is too rich, too powerful, and too controlling to remain on the sidelines. Jolene, Juliette’s Mom is going to be a problem. I think we can assume that Juliette and Deacon will have some ups and downs, likely because Rayna is going to be more and more unhappy about having to support her husband’s run for Mayor, while he is fooling around on the side. Rayna is also loyal to a family friend, Coleman Carlisle, played by Robert Wisdom. Wouldn’t you know it? Carlisle is also a mayoral candidate.

As I see it, we are going to have our female singers under plenty of stress while they struggle to keep a balance between the demands and conflicts that come from combining  music and marriage or a relationship, singing and sex, as well as the demands that family and friends make on each of them. Lest you think that this won’t be a lot of fun for we viewers, there’s plenty of music going on as well – and these interludes are nothing short of fabulous. Britton represents the strength and wisdom of an older woman, and Panettiere offers a contrasting perspective of youth and exuberance that lacks only a self-governing mechanism. Between these two we have Scarlett who while not free from struggles and stress, she will sure have to buckle down to make her dreams come true.

While NBC’s Smash was centered around a Broadway musical theatrical production with its built-in competition for the lead role, this series is centered around the Country Music scene in Nashville – both have strong female leads and great music. While we wait for the return of Smash about a month in to 2013, we have a terrific show to follow right now.

As actress Bette Davis said a long time ago in the classic film All About Eve, a film that just happens to be about an older actress, Margo Channing, and a young and ambitious up-and-coming young actress, Eve Harrington (you can translate that to Rayna and Juliette); “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Look for my full recap of Episode 5 in a few days. And mammas, you ought to think twice if your daughter can sing.

4 thoughts on “Nashville – The ABC-TV Series So Far: Episodes 1 – 4

  1. Nashville was rated the best new TV show in a recent Weekly) poll in front of two other new shows I also recommend, NBC’s Lost-like hit, Revolution, and the CBS Sherlock Holmes update, Elementary.

    As you might suspect, there’s more sex on Nashville, but the volatile stars of Elementary, Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, have better chemistry!

    • EW’s poll notwithstanding, I had high hopes for the series. But I have to say, the episode just broadcast this evening, Episode 5 – Move it on Over – did its best to take a step backwards. I can watch marital squabbles, embezzlement, influential power brokers, and unrequited love on day-time soaps any day of the week.

      On top of that – none of the songs we heard this week were winners. Full recap to follow.

      • I dunno. The acting of the two leads is very good. And I’m surprised Hayden Panettierre seems able to match — or even exceed Connie Britton’s acting. Charles Eston is also very good.

        The storyline is kind of hackneyed, but the guitar riffs are not. Like Smash, this show is best when music takes center stage. Either show can still be a winner, but only if they focus more on show business (Broadway or Country Honk) and less on showing the characters getting busy.

        Nashville needs to use the country music business the way Mad Men uses advertising. Both shows revolve around the characters’ sex and business lives, but Nashville only plays at the music business from behind a glass control booth. Mad Men goes behind the glass walls and shows how an advertsing campaign is actually created and pitched. Neither business is boring, but Mad Men succeeds and Nashville fails. Why? The counterbalance between the private and professonal storylines pays off on Mad Men. Unlike sitcom, jobs are serious business in successful dramas. Another good show that is still struggling to find the right balance between work and play is The Newsroom.

        The TV drama that does this exceptionally well is at the moment is The Good Wife, in which the legal issues and the personal relationships are ingeniously and unpredictably entangled.

  2. I clearly said that Episode 5 was a step backwards. Your response is based more on the general effectiveness of a series as a whole, rather than this specific episode.

    I didn’t make any representations on the acting, or or the overall content. Please read the recap of episode 5. I don’t think you will disagree that the episode was a step backwards.

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