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'Nashville': Athens of South offers epic entertainment

Nashville is ABC’s attempt to contribute to the new trend of musical dram-com TV shows and movies that have emerged since the creation of FOX’s Glee. But Nashville sets itself apart from its predecessors: It’s not catered toward the usual pre-teen/teen demographic most musical TV shows try to capture. Critics have already heaped praise on the show, which brought in almost 9 million viewers for its Oct. 10 series premiere.

The show stars Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) as Rayna Jaymes, a country music legend whose fame is starting to fade fast, and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) as the rising young country sensation Juliette Barnes. Rayna is the reigning queen of country music, but her new album is not charting or producing any notable singles, and tickets to her tour aren’t selling. Her label threatens to end her tour and stop promoting her album unless Rayna decides to open for the up-and-coming Barnes. An obvious and heated rivalry arises between the two: Rayna does not take Juliette seriously and dismisses her commercial, pop-influenced music, and Juliette sees Rayna as a washed-up country has-been. The conflict deepens when Juliette tries to steal Rayna’s bandleader and former lover Deacon (Charles Esten) to sign on to her tour. To complicate things further, Rayna’s estranged father (Powers Booth) convinces her husband to run for mayor, pitting Rayna against an old family friend also running for office.

Panettiere’s character could easily be the typical young, sexy country star but the show lets her do more: She deals with her mom asking for drug money and aims to be something more than a tool for her label to capture teen audiences. Both Panettiere and Britton capture the complexities of their characters. Britton is still one of the best actresses on television and an early contender for an Emmy nod.

What makes this show work is not only the outstanding acting but also the plot’s realistic trajectory. Whereas the sheer outlandishness of Glee can be off-putting, Nashville’s storylines are real situations facing a number of artists in the music business today.

Although the majority of the songs are original, the ones that stand out are the duets performed at a bar called The Bluebird, the center of underground country scene (Taylor Swift was discovered there when she was fifteen). The best song by far has been “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” by The Civil Wars, performed by Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio), two supporting characters.

Although I’m not a huge fan of country music, I am a huge fan of this show, and this wide appeal makes Nashville one of the best new shows on television.

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