Dear country-music loving, Southern Christian conservatives: If you really want to punish A&E for the network’s (fleeting) suspension of “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson, by all means boycott the show the network is launching behind its signature program’s return, “Crazy Hearts: Nashville.” Because trust me, if that contingent doesn’t tune in, no one else will. Another docu-soap that’s far more sudsy than “docu,” the series assembles a group of aspiring or semi-established musicians to focus on their lives and (more often) loves. Cynically piling on the Southern-fried-TV trend, all that’s missing are I Love My Gun and Pickup Truck T-shirts.
Practically speaking, the show comes with its own built-in excuse for promoting a lot of “You done me wrong” songs as a tie-in, giving the music an organic connection to the carefully staged dramatic sequences.
As if to drive home that latter point, the whole shebang is presided over by a journalist/publicist (as billed in the press notes, anyway), Heather Byrd, who not only narrates most of what transpires but acts as the go-between in one of the struggling relationships.
One of her duties includes commiserating with Lee Holyfield, who is stuck on country rocker Leroy Powell, a love-’em-and-leave-’em type. Alas, Leroy already has moved on to singer-songwriter Hannah Fairlight, a free spirit who hooked up briefly with crooner Anthony Billups, although he’s still pining for ex-girlfriend Amy Wilcox.
Meanwhile, singer-bartender Jimmy Stanley is receiving professional encouragement from his new girlfriend, a wannabe manager named April Nemeth, because, oh honestly, who cares?
Whatever one’s view of country music, there’s almost nothing approaching an authentic note in “Crazy Hearts: Nashville,” other than its vague resemblance to ABC’s “Nashville,” and clear belief there’s an audience out there eager to watch anything that originates in their geographical zone.
The irony is that by misreading that audience during the “Duck Dynasty” flap, A&E has likely boosted ratings for its return, which should help reel in more viewers to sample “Country Hearts” — although the real test, as always, will be who comes back for an encore.
For the artists, of course, there’s little downside to this sort of promotional showcase, but nobody should confuse the series with anything more than that. Because just as several characters wear their hearts on their sleeves, A&E’s rationale for ordering “Crazy Hearts” is thoroughly transparent.