It was only a matter of time -- six episodes of ABC's Nashville, to be exact -- until the gloves came off and that buttery Southern friendliness melted away.
For mayoral candidate Coleman Carlisle (Robert Wisdom), that means blackmailing Rayna Jaymes’ (Connie Britton) husband Teddy Conrad (Eric Close) over incriminating photos; for power-broker manager Marilyn Rhodes (Rya Kihlstedt), it's pressuring young male clients for sex, a fact Avery Barkley (Jonathon Jackson) is learning the hard way, losing his stand-by-your-man girlfriend Scarlett (Claire Bowen) to the pressure.
That’s right, Nashville is a place where people are guided by the creed of “by any means necessary.” And if you’re Marshall Evans (Todd Truly), heartless new president of Edgehill/Republic Records, that equals a shotgun duet between waning superstar Jaymes and troubled country starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) at the Ryman Auditorium. The purpose: to bolster the former’s momentum and clean up the latter’s bad press.
What’s the label head holding over Jaymes’ head that’s forced her into this compromised position – at the record company’s anniversary party, no less? The threat of a Greatest Hits collection, released against said artist’s wishes.
It happens -- just ask Tim McGraw how the lack of new music causes stagnancy in a competitive marketplace. As for the notion of stonewalling artists who won’t work with the “approved producers,” as Rayna puts in motion when rocker Liam McGuinnis (Treme's Michiel Huisman) agrees to record with her? Echoes of Faith Hill’s still unreleased project with Brendan O’Brien, perhaps?
In Nashville, it’s every man or woman for him or herself. Even Juliette, whose management team is watching their all-American PR match with football star Sean Butler (Tilky Jones) tank under backlash from his squeaky clean fans and piss-poor performance on the field (Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson, anyone?), recognizes there comes a point where you need to just hold your nose and get through it.
And so, after much squabbling and insult hurling (not unheard of in the real-life Nashville), the two collaborate on a duet, with Jaymes voicing what both were thinking: “Let’s just write this song, and be done with it.”
Consider it mascara under the bridge as the pair hash out the song, balancing elements like “letting the verse breathe” (Rayna) with a rush to “get to the chorus” (Juliette). The result: the rabble-rousing done-and-over-it anthem “Wrong Song,” that tells a lying cheat there’s no more second chances.
Onstage at the Ryman in their golden dresses, they are the epitome of sizzle. Ah, illusions! Boasting cascades of wavy hair, caked-on make-up and blinding smiles, both may look like they’re drinking rancid milk at all other times, but not on that legendary stage. And that’s okay: illusions are what the fans buy, not what the people selling them get to see.
For Marshall Evans, the sort of label head who tweaks on self-aggrandizing by MCing his own anniversary show (plenty of those executives in the music industry, from legends like Clive Davis to local moguls-in-training, like Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta) at the hallowed hall, it’s a perfectly constructed moment. All his marketable assets are merging into one diva-sized girl power-palooza to up their individual value; it’s every record guy’s dream.
Still, seeing Buddy Miller as the second to last act on the “big” Edgehill/Republic Records show is a thrill. Donning a peacock blue vintage jacket (respect), Miller leads a wicked band through “Midnight & Lonesome” with a vengeance, blurring the line between TV and real life with zeal.
It takes trumped up theatrics -- shoulder-to-shoulder guitar slinging, the two queens posing back-to-back on the verge of vocal throwdown -- to compete with the authenticity Miller generates. Shamelessly unapologetic, Nashville devotes an entire song to Jaymes and Barnes' fireworks, another stunner of a tune in an already impressive canon of original material.
It’s fraught, torqued and leaves you hanging -- precisely as an appointment viewing series should.