In the fall of 2012, critics were buzzing about the newest musical- themed television show that was about to premiere. With FOX’s “Glee” rapidly losing viewers and NBC’s “Smash” stuck in limbo, music-lovers were pining for a show that would finally get the genre right.
ABC struck country gold with “Nashville,” a drama surrounding two country singers on opposite ends of their careers.
Connie Britton plays Rayna James, a 40-year-old country mu- sic star, while Hayden Panettiere portrays Juliette Barnes, an up-and-coming country-pop crossover. Both ladies command the screen with their impressive acting chops, as well as their sweet vocals crooning expertly penned songs by some of country’s best.
Now in its second successful season, “Nashville” continues to prove why it has continued to be a smash hit among viewers. However, the plot can at times get soapy. In the first season’s finale, there was car crash, a marriage proposal and a suicide attempt all set to a musical montage. These melodramatic elements are offset, however, by songs that connect and performances that consistently deliver.
The show’s songwriters work closely with the screenwriters to make sure each song has its purpose within the episodes. The characters don’t randomly burst into song whenever they feel like it. “Nashville” lets its music flow naturally and it creates brilliant, delicate moments that are enhanced by the perfect song.
The cast is a wide range of talents, from seasoned veterans like Britton and Eric Close, to new-comers Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen. Each character has his or her own music style as well. Rayna (Britton) delivers classic country hits and ballads, while Gunnar and Scarlett (Palladio and Bowen, respectively) deliver harmony-rich acoustic ballads and love songs.
The show’s breakout performance, however, comes from Panettiere, who has developed into a masterful actress. Her character, Juliette Barnes, could have been played without depth and she would have come off as a snobby, rich pop star. Instead, Panettiere creates complicated layers for Juliette. Even when her character is utterly cruel, the audience knows the intentions behind it.
Panettiere is at her best when she is breaking down, searching for answers in Juliette’s complicated life after incidents like her mother passing away and her fans boycotting her after numerous tabloid scandals.
Sparks fly when Britton and Panettiere actually share the screen together. Both divas in their own rights, they share moments of joy together and moments of bitter rivalry. In season two, the show has taken more risks by spreading out the plot, allowing each character and relationship to grow or dis- mantle organically.
And perhaps that is the biggest reason why “Nashville” works so well. It flows and unfolds when the time is right, rather than being contrived and tied down to a particular storyline for too long. The writers have taken great control of the plot and really explored possibilities with their characters. While some storylines remain cliché, others are fresh and make perfect sense in the complicated world of the music industry.
“Nashville” proves that music-themed television shows can work when there is a brilliant, hardworking team behind it.