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Nashville: The Complete First Season

(Lionsgate Television, ABC Studios, Cutler Productions, Opry Entertainment, Paragon Studios, Small Wishes; US DVD: 17 Sep 2013)

If you talk to people about the first season of ABC’s highly-touted nighttime soap, Nashville, you’re going to hear about one thing: the music. More specifically, you’ll hear a lot about the “amazing music!” Fans will go on and on about the soundtrack, the sound, and everything else auditory regarding the country music capital of the world.


Sure, every once in awhile someone may mention Rayna James (Connie Britton), Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), or those cute little girls, Maddie (Lennon Stella) and Daphne (Maisy Stella) who sing so well. Still, there’s not a lot of story discussion. Nashville brings a different kind of drama from the plot twisting, cliff-hanging ilk of Scandal or Revenge.


The TV-PG rated drama designed to hit as many quadrants as possible gets off to a fine—and fast—start. Things are already cooking down South with reigning country queen Rayna James facing falling album sales, upper class money troubles, thanks to her husband’s faulty business practices, and an unresolved love interest with former boyfriend—and current lead guitar player—Deacon Claybourne. And she’s only the co-lead.


Our other main protagonist, Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), has her own set of issues. She’s trying to gain respect in an industry that sees her as pop princess selling albums with catchy jingles and her looks; she wants Deacon for her own band and can’t get him; and she’s constantly being harassed for money by her drug-addicted mother.


Phew! That’s a lot of drama, right? Well, yes and no. The material is certainly there, but the construction and subsequent execution of the elements doesn’t trigger many gasps. There’s more than enough listed above to last a full season (and I didn’t mention the 10 other characters all with drama of their own), and they do string out a few of the larger secrets until the end (but really, anyone who doesn’t know who has whose illegitimate child is simply a nincompoop). Yet none of it feels urgent. It’s not that you don’t want to watch the next episode. It’s that you don’t need to watch the next episode.


You do, however, want to hear the next song. With T-Bone Burnett on board as well as an abundance of talented writers and country music star cameos, the music on Nashville is as good as you’ve heard. From Rayna’s classic hits and her new country-rock hybrid sound to Deacon’s crooning love songs and Juliette’s addictive pop crowd-pleasers, there’s something for everyone in Nashville, and you’ll probably find yourself humming a few tunes you didn’t expect to like (“Wrong Song” got to me after a less than stellar initial impression).


Really, you just have to decide if this makes the show worthwhile. In a day and age when television is thriving and everyone is cramming their watch-lists with multiple series, Nashville is an extra hour a week you have to find in your schedule. I’m going to take the time. It’s mainly Mrs. Coach, er, Connie Britton who’s keeping me around, but I’m also eager to see if the show can improve from good to great with a season under its belt. After all, it’s hard to pinpoint what precisely is missing from Nashville with all the talent in front of and behind the camera.


But then comes the poorly-paced season finalé, and it becomes painfully clear what Nashville needs is a more visually conscious showrunner. No disrespect to creator Callie Khouri, but she helmed the trivial season one send-off and similar faults are visible throughout the first season. As is customary with network nighttime soaps, each character faces a crossroads conveniently allowing for multiple cliffhangers going into season two. Yet Nashville pays no deference to its characters. Their crises unfold in a bland montage without feeling, care, and – most importantly – a distinct lack of drama.


Khouri doesn’t have to milk these moments to death, but they could have taken a page from the last great nighttime soap, The O.C., when it comes to giving characters their due. Even the much-hated Marissa got a better goodbye in the otherwise forgettable season three than any of the beloved people in Nashville got last year.


That love will only grow for anyone who sticks around to watch the bonus features included in the first season’s DVD set. Seven deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and a brief making-of doc titled “‘Nashville’ Comes to Nashville” all help, but two other extras stand out. The first is “Stellas Go On Tour”, an eight minute set tour with the child actors who play Rayna’s cute and musically talented children.


Lennon and Maisy Stella, real-life sisters, walk us through the makeup trailer, wardrobe room, backstage rehearsals, and a few of the key sets, including the Bluebird bar. The born entertainers cap it off with a rendition of The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey”. Basically, they charm the hell out of you and make you want to watch their YouTube channel on repeat.


The other key feature comes in a set of two as we get to hear the original writers of two songs sing and discuss their work. First up is “Consider Me”, the song Juliette wrote with Deacon and performed live as a way to prove herself a legitimate musician. There’s some good tidbits here, but the real dirt comes from “If I Didn’t”, the number Scarlett and Gunnar perform at the Bluebird to close out the pilot.


Did anyone know—or even suspect—these two weren’t born and raised in the deep South? Turns out Clare Bowen is Australian and Sam Palladio is British! Now there’s a twist I didn’t see coming.

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Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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