The most invidious stereotypes are those that form when the subject has little personal relevance. It can be very difficult to shake a suspicion without some anecdotal evidence. Most of what I knew about country music before watching Nashville came from snide jokes in American shows with greater cultural crossover. In British terms it seemed to have the same cultural cachet of Morris dancing but without any of the ironic participatory enjoyment.
Commercially and spiritually, country music is much more at home below the Mason-Dixon line. That post-modernism hasn’t yet reached what is known condescendingly as the Bible Belt, is almost certainly testament to its continued success: songs telling simple human stories with universal themes of love, loss, hope, fear, success and failure are easy to embrace. Listen long enough and you’ll find something to identify with.
The creator of Nashville, Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), seems to see the show as one extended country song. Even though all of the characters are very emotionally driven the storylines never become overcomplicated. That the story rarely slips into trite melodrama or one dimensional acting is a credit to the show’s cast.
Leads Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights), and Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) are both visually very powerful. There were times after watching when I could’ve seen a National Enquirer front page with Panettiere’s Juliet Barnes on the cover and not questioned its veracity. Her command of both ends of the emotional spectrum, from sugar sweet to lemon sour is grunge like in its delivery, with the quiet setting up the noise and her scowl never more than a circumflex away from a smile if it’ll help her get her way.
Clare Bowen as Scarlett, a waitress and a poet, is thoroughly enjoyable and deservedly gets extended screen time as the series progresses.
As somebody with an extensive and less than complimentary scepticism about musicals it was difficult to initially give Nashville its due. My utter loathing for shows which degenerate into “spontaneous” sing-and-dance ensembles remains intact, but for the first time I’m willing to admit that credible emotional stories can involve music.
Nashville Season 1 is out on DVD from 22 July