TV Review: ‘Nashville’ pilot out of tune, lacks originiality

Haley Boston, Columnist

A pilot episode of a one-hour drama is formulaic by nature because it must satisfy a variety of needs. It has to draw in the audience while establishing setting, character, plot, and most importantly, a lasting conflict. It must express some unique or fresh quality that not only entices the network the creators pitch to, but also future die-hard fans. By those guidelines, I don’t understand how or why a team of producers chose to promote “Nashville.”

“Nashville” is a dramatic story centered on a former country sensation, Rayna (Connie Britton), who struggles to accept the fact that her fame is quickly fading into the shadow of a bratty young starlet, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere). Sound familiar? Try an exact replica of the 2010 dramatic musical “Country Strong.” With a more serious tinge, the 2009 film “Crazy Heart” also focuses on a deteriorating country flame. There may be a market for this genre, but if so, any new branch must feature an original twist. If “Nashville” does have a twist, it hasn’t clearly been established after the conclusion of the pilot.

As Rayna begins falling from stardom, a political side-plot arises that highlights the dysfunctional relationship between her and her father. Other minor characters come in and out of the spotlight throughout the episode, while not directly adding to the central conflict. The conflict (Rayna must choose between her pride and her career) seems almost too simple to carry through an entire season. A well-constructed show introduces new immediate issues within the protagonist’s overarching struggle. An almost perfect model is the pilot of “Breaking Bad,” where the main struggle lies within the context of a more immediate problem that is resolved over the first couple episodes. However, this resolution causes more conflict, keeping the storyline fresh and captivating as we witness the characters’ changes, both positive and negative.

The creators of “Nashville” have shown us exactly how the characters will undergo change. We can already tell which idyllic couples obsessive fans will fantasize about like Chair (Chuck and Blair of “Gossip Girl”) and Jim and Pam of “The Office.” It is obvious that because Juliette and Rayna both have messy relationships with their parents, they will eventually bond over their similarities. The creators have shed light on so many potential plot twists that they’re serving us spoilers on a silver platter.

The pilot of “Nashville” feels mass-produced, as if the writers made a checklist of the essentials and then hardly skimmed the surface. They even left out a few, like creating characters that may evoke empathy in the audience. Because the characters don’t yet feel like real people, we can’t possibly empathize with them. We don’t care much that Rayna is losing her career, and if there’s no emotional connection to the main plot, why would we be compelled to continue investing our time in the show? I found myself just waiting for Hayden Panettiere’s predictable character to add surface drama by making unrealistic rude remarks to other characters.

While I won’t personally be following this television series, it has the potential to grasp a certain audience. The show is similar in structure to the norm of overly-dramatic television like “90210” and “Revenge,” which have both gained a strong fan base. I may follow the show from afar if only to see if my predictions come true. If you want to check it out yourself, “Nashville” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.