ABC has made the pilot episode of its new country music soap Nashville (premiering next Wednesday) available online and boy howdy, it's a daggum blast! Well, that might be a little overly effusive, but it is a mostly entertaining, well-acted hour full of fading glory and rising bitchery. Callie Khouri, the Thelma & Louise writer who won an Oscar and hasn't done much of note since (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? Mad Money?), has written a nice setup for a series all about backstage tensions and intrigue and onstage big hair and smiles. Based on the one episode, we're near-about sold, except there's one unfortunate aspect that threatens to sink the whole enterprise.
Let's start with the good stuff first. Playing reigning but slipping queen of country Rayna Jaymes (good name), Connie Britton puts her Friday Night Lights Southern twang back into the mix, but gives it a sharper, wearier edge. While Rayna is the nicer of the two warring singers at the center of the story, she clearly had to kick a few butts and take a few names to get to the top, so Britton doesn't make her too angelic, the way, let's be honest, Tami Taylor sometimes verged on. Rayna's got a big comfy mansion with her husband and two daughters, but they're a little "cash poor," according to hubby (Eric Close), so Rayna has to leave home and go on tour to promote an only mildly selling album. But she's getting to be old news, and crossover country pop is all the rage, so her record label tries to set her up with an up-and-comer named Juliette Barnes (not a great country name), played with perky seduction by the increasingly likable (she was great in Scream 4, seriously) Hayden Panettiere. Most press coverage of the show positions Juliette as a Taylor Swift type, but her music doesn't seem to have the same earnest, confessional spirit to it, nor does all her sultry/sexy devious behavior at all mirror Swift's "golly gosh" guffawing. Juliette's sly temptress stuff is a little bit of a hoary TV cliche — naughty, but network tame — but Panettiere mostly sells it.