'Nashville' premiere recap: Music, politics, and good old-fashioned catfights

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The new drama series "Nashville" didn't waste any time setting up several soap opera-level storylines, intrigues, and intertwining fates. All that and the kitchen sink could be considered a bit overwhelming for a pilot, but the ABC show managed to pack it all in, hooking the audience without confusing them. Top-level acting, fast-paced storytelling, and some darn good country music elevate the series from mere melodrama to seriously fun, quality television.

The intro

Connie Britton stars as Rayna Jaymes, a popular, beloved country music superstar who suddenly finds herself with a failing record and a tour that isn't selling enough tickets to sustain itself. Concerned with results more than loyalty, the record label insists Rayna "co-headline" a tour with up-and-coming, auto-tuned crossover starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) in order to gain a more youthful audience. Though she needs the money to sustain her family's upper-class lifestyle, the veteran singer has trouble accepting that she has to open a tour for a young gal she doesn't even respect.

Juliette is painted as a spoiled, manipulative diva with minor talent in music and major talent in seduction. She gets snarky when introduced to Rayna but drools all over Rayna's guitarist, Deacon (Charles "Chip" Esten). Apparently she's a big fan of his unsuccessful attempts at a solo career and even comes incognito to watch him play at a local bar. Getting the impression from the record label that Rayna's career is over, she does her best to woo Deacon over to be her fellow songwriter and band leader.

Rayna's complicated life

There's more to "Nashville" than a simple "All About Eve" conflict, however. Rayna's husband Teddy (Eric Close) has fallen on hard times due to the economic collapse, and he's forced to depend on her financially, straining their marriage. It's also revealed that she and Deacon had a relationship in the past, and he still isn't over her; it's not quite clear why she chose Teddy over him. The two musicians have a poignant heart-to-heart over the career issues with Juliette, and Rayna tells Deacon she doesn't want to hold him back.

As far as family, Rayna has an antagonistic relationship with her powerful, wealthy father and only makes the occasional public appearance with him at the request of her next-in-line-for-the-throne sister. She doesn't like or trust him, and is furious when he convinces Teddy to run for mayor -- obviously so her father can control Teddy for his own ends. Her husband wants the legitimate chance to be the big cheese in the family for once, and "Nashville" leaves us hanging until the very end, when Rayna finally steps up to support him in his campaign.

Subplots

"Nashville" shows viewers that Juliette has her own issues, with a junkie mother that keeps tracking her down and asking for money. The young starlet soothes the pain of her background by manipulating everyone to get what she wants. She sleeps with Rayna's record producer, then dumps him when she gets her hooks into Deacon. While it's obvious the guitarist wants the potential hit songs with Juliette, and now the sex, it's not clear yet whether he'll bail on his first lady love entirely.

Deacon also introduces his niece Scarlett (Clare Bowen) to Rayna. The young woman turns out to be a big fan, who writes poetry and tries to promote her songwriter boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson) instead of herself. We get the impression she's too good for Avery, and her Uncle Deacon prefers the more-talented Gunnar (Sam Palladio), who very obviously has a big crush on Scarlett.

The decision

Rayna goes into the meeting with record execs, fully expecting that her 20 years with the label and stellar track record will convince them to figure out another way to promote her music. Stunned when they deliver the same ultimatum to tour with Juliette, Rayna storms out, jeopardizing her future in music. But then she hears Scarlett and Gunnar performing a beautiful, traditional country song together, and the wheels start turning for a way the aging star can revive her career without compromising her pride.

"Nashville" airs on CBS Wednesdays at 10 PM ET.

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