Life is as shallow in the middle of Tennessee as it is on the shores of Orange County, Fox’s “Nashville” tells viewers in its opening episode. The creators of “Laguna Beach” have added twang, tight jeans and a pinch of aw-shucks attitude to the “Laguna” model, striking a flat note for Fox as it gathers a crew of chiseled young adults to dream about stardom in the country music capital. Lacking the excitement of its key timeslot competition, “Las Vegas,” hourlong could quickly be relegated to the sale bin in the Ernest Tubb Record Store.
Nashville, which might not have changed that much since Robert Altman so gloriously captured its ambience of fear and dashed dreams in the mid-1970s, is based on people with model looks, minimal talent and only a modicum of a shot of making it as country music performer; show is as directionless as its stars.
In the convoluted premiere each individual appears to be isolated or else a new arrival to manipulate the aud into picking a favorite to cheer on. Somehow, all of the featured players wind up at the same party. The soiree is thrown by the hunky Clint, who is supposed to be following his father into the jet sales business, but would rather concentrate on seducing the wannabes. He has a leg up on his competition — he’s the only one who has two nickels to scratch together.
The assumption here, one supposes, is that viewers will latch onto one of Faith Hill/Tim McGraw hopefuls and cleave to that story.
The characters are Terry Bradshaw’s daughter, fresh off the plane from Dallas; a singer-songwriter attracting serious interest from Sony BMG’s RCA label; a former Universal recording artist trying to rebuild a career; a handful of local babes; and, what else, a coal miner’s daughter. Make that a stunningly attractive coal miner’s daughter, one that has every guy with a guitar going ga-ga.
For about three or so minutes in the seemingly endless debut episode, there is some very real, rather tense talk about the reality of Nashville. Two managers have received the go-ahead from some label bigwigs to stage a showcase. As they explain, 95% of the performers in Nashville never get to this stage, and of those that do, 90% of them are told no. There is actual, visceral tension here.
The managers, as much as they believe in Chuck Wicks, have concerns. They believe in his songs, but are unsure of his ability to command a room. Wicks takes their suggestions and doesn’t fight back, advice I’m not so sure “Nashville’s” other songsters would necessarily heed. They all seem to think they’ll succeed on their own terms, not realizing they are stepping into a machine that needs only the occasional new cog.
While country music is the one genre posting decent sales numbers, it is also the one genre plagued by homogeneity in the sound and appearance of its acts. “Nashville” shows a few good old boys in the business — they go skeet shooting in the opener though one wonders if they do it very often — and they draw a clear distinction between talent and the GQ model types, fully aware that Nashville now demands that its stars be a bit of both.
Nashville is not that large a city and the repeated set-up shots make it appear like it only has two blocks of businesses. No one works all that hard in this version of “Nashville,” which is populated by more bikinis than cowboy hats, a place where people dream of being stars rather than accomplished musicians or songwriters. The show’s producers have little interest in showing what it takes to become a star, especially when they have footage of a girl believing she was dissed by a boy. Sounds like that should that be a song rather than a TV show.