Future historians will likely puzzle over ABC’s fascination with country music, embodied this fall by the Reba McEntire sitcom “Malibu Country” and, up first, the musical soap “Nashville,” which seeks to set “All About Eve” to a twang-y soundtrack. While there’s promise in the pilot and especially the casting, the show feels a trifle disjointed, as if compelled to load up on a surplus of elements and subplots. Better that, perhaps, than fumbling for storylines, but if there’s this much crooning throughout, the series might lose some viewers who simply grow weary of “She done him wrong” songs.
In terms of backstage politics, “Nashville” has a relatable hook: an older (aging would be too strong) country star, Rayna James (Connie Britton), perceived to be on the downside of her career. As such, she’s pressured to tour as the opening act for a rising young singer with more crossover potential, Juliette Barnes (“Heroes’ ” Hayden Panettiere), a bratty diva who also resists the pairing, which she’s prodded to do “for the label.”
Still, “Nashville” is more than just your standard-issue May-August catfight. Rayna also has a house-husband (Eric Close) who feels underappreciated, and a band leader (Charles Esten) with whom she enjoys a complicated history.
Throw in some talented wannabes on the fringes, and all that might be enough, frankly — especially with so much music to squeeze in. Yet “Thelma & Louise” writer Callie Khouri also layers on Rayna’s father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), a scheming political mover and business mogul who almost seems to have parachuted in from another show — or the serialized version of “Chinatown.”
Britton is quite simply a TV star (thank goodness she escaped “American Horror Story” unscathed), and Rayna serves as the show’s moral center. Panettiere’s character has a sketchier template — playing someone with her own skeletons, but who also isn’t above using her ample talent and sex appeal to get what she wants.
Certainly, there’s juicy soap material to be mined here, provided the show dials back on the music after a pilot that rivals HBO’s “Treme” in that regard for sheer tonnage. The larger question is whether there’s enough inherent drama in the Rayna-and-Juliette dynamic to sustain the series over the long haul.
ABC does have high-profile links to country music via such showcases as the upcoming CMA Awards, but its infatuation with translating the genre to series still appears questionable. Despite that, credit “Nashville” with crafting a reasonably catchy hook. Of course, as we’ve seen in seasons past, that alone won’t necessarily be enough to prevent Khouri and her latest female duo from going off a cliff.