First there was Glee, then there was Smash and now we have Nashville. Set in the capital of the country music scene, this new musical drama spins a soapy yarn about the battle between old and new in the music industry.
Country superstar Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) is a legend, but even legends can be brought low. Thanks to some bad business decisions on her husband's part, Rayna has to work extra hard to bring in money to keep supporting her family. Unfortunately, her latest record hasn't been selling well and her label is losing confidence. In an attempt to boost her image, they want to send her out on tour with Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), their hot young starlet, an idea she's not too thrilled with. Meanwhile, tensions flare between Rayna and her father (Powers Boothe), a power-hungry businessman who's pressuring her husband to run for mayor in the hopes that it will boost his professional interests.
Rayna's story is a sympathetic one, but that's largely because she's portrayed as such a victim and those she's up against as such mustache-twirling villains. Much like Smash's Ivy, Juliette Barnes is such a loathsome character who's so overly demonized that it's impossible to take her side. Boothe's character is similarly horrendous as he ends an argument by viciously snarling at his daughter about the questionable paternity of his eldest grandchild. Britton is radiant as she always is, but Rayna really has no agency in this story. Through the entire pilot, she's like an animal trapped in a corner. We're told about of all of the strong and independent decisions she's made to get where she is, but aren't given an opportunity to see that side of her.
With the rivalry between Rayna and Juliette, Nashville has the tools to create an interesting discussion about the values of old versus new. However, the way the story is laid out, the deck is so stacked in Rayna's favor, with all of the sympathy on her side, that there's nothing interesting about it. The decision is taken out of the viewer's hands as they're told that the new, popular Juliette is bad and that wholesome, classic Rayna is good. As with Smash's rivalry between Karen and Ivy, the battle between Rayna and Juliette is a fixed catfight that never considers that maybe Rayna is wrong to be so proud and that, for all her faults, maybe Juliette earned her stardom much in the way her predecessor did. If Nashville wants to succeed as more than an evening soap, it needs to give both of its lead characters a fair shake.
Nashville airs Wednesdays at 9pm on ABC.