If you like reading contemporary romance, I bet you’d enjoy watching Nashville. It’s got all the ingredients one often encounters in contemporary romance. There’s a strong woman torn between the love of her life and the man she left him for. There’s a conniving yet sympathetic younger woman determined to win the old lover for herself. There’s a secondary romance between a good girl who is slowly learning that a good guy is better than a bad boy. There are family issues galore. The sexual tension starts hot and, as the season progresses, gets hotter. And, all of these plot elements are designed with women viewers in mind. Oh, and though this isn’t found in contemps, there’s kickass music on every show. I love it. So does my sixteen year old daughter and (yes!) my husband.
It’s a great show in part because–like many a great romance novel–the plot is written by a successful woman with a knack for tapping into the psyche of the American female: Callie Khouri. Ms. Khouri is the writer of the iconic film Thelma and Louise as well as the writer of Something to Talk About and The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. In Nashville, as she did in those films, she gives viewers complicated, nuanced women who struggle to balance love, work, and family.
If you’ve never seen the show, here’s a quick recap. Rayna James (played by the always fabulous Connie Britton) is the reigning Queen of Country (think Faith Hill without the perfect husband). Rayna’s dominated the country charts for the past twenty years, but her ratings are slipping and her record company is pressuring her to change. The company suggests Rayna be more like the current #1 star in town, a pop-tart (think Taylor Swift crossed with a saner Britney Spears) named Juliette Barnes (played by the sassy Hayden Panettierre). Not only are Juliette and Rayna fighting for Rayna’s throne, they’re battling for the professional and personal talents of Deacon Claybourne, Rayna’s longtime bandleader and long ago lover. Deacon’s never stopped loving Rayna and now that Rayna’s marriage to Teddy Conrad has fallen apart, Rayna’s thinking pretty hard about Deacon’s loving arms. Juliette wants Deacon as her bandleader and casual lover.
If Juliette and Rayna are at the top of the country stardom ladder, Scarlett O’Connor, Deacon’s niece, has just moved to Nashville with her bad boy boyfriend, Avery Barkley. Scarlett writes songs while waitressing at Nashville’s famous club, the Bluebird. Also working at the Bluebird doing sound is wannabe singer and guitarist (and all around hottie) Gunnar Scott. Gunnar persuades Scarlett to sing some of her songs with him on open mike nights and together they make beautiful music.
Ms. Khouri has written into the show many of the themes contemporary romance authors explore. Infidelity, addiction, political power, familial roles, beauty, passion, and friendship are all issues the characters navigate their way through. All these issues, however, are dwarfed by the past, present, and possible future romantic relationships of Juliette, Rayna, Deacon, Scarlett, Avery, and Gunnar. As of yet, no one has found a happy ever after; this is, after all, serial TV.
The show’s into the second half of the first season and has a wildly devoted, predominately female fan base. It won the Critic’s Choice Award in 2012 for Most Exciting New Series and has been nominated for a slew of TV awards.
It’s also generated some of the top selling songs on the country and crossover charts. Britton, Panettiere, and the rest of the cast sing almost all original music on the show–the musical director is Ms. Khouri’s husband, the legendary T-Bone Burnett. Thus far, there’ve been almost a million digital downloads of the tracks released from the show. The music is excellent and varied. My husband would say he’s not a country music listener, but he loves to hear Connie Britton and her costars sing.
So, if you’ve thought about watching “Nashville” and you’re a contemporary romance fan, give it a try.