By Ken Tucker
Updated October 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC
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The second episode of Nashville kicked off a scene showing Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) filming a video for for new single “Telescope,” a bit of jaunty pop-country that’s been released in the real world as a single to country radio. It seems like a bit of a risky move: If the song as sung by Panettiere sinks without a trace, doesn’t it suggest that Juliette Barnes isn’t a powerhouse hit maker? Not really: The majority of viewers watching Nashville aren’t also keeping their eyes on the music charts. Nope, it’s the mixture of drama and music that’s going to make or break Nashville, and this week’s episode, written as last week’s pilot was by creator Callie Khouri, revealed more of the series’ strengths and weaknesses.

Early on in the hour, the plot-line that sounded so promising — forcing Connie Britton’s Rayna Jaymes to tour with Juliette as her opening act — was nipped in the bud. In its place, Rayna agreed to an idea of J.D. Souther’s Watty that she should do a tour of smaller venues with Charles Esten’s Deacon Claybourne. It’s a notion that makes real-world sense (lots of 40-plus-age country singers go the acoustic tour route), but I was still a bit disappointed: The glitz and the bitterness of a big-time music-tour sounded so appealing.

However, we got some nice scene-setting and character development. Deacon, still fond of Rayna but with an addict’s weakness for flattery, hops into Juliette’s truck to ride off and write a song with the admiring younger woman. They sounded pretty terrific together. But just as quickly, they were skinny-dippin’ in Juliette’s expensive fishin’ hole (the property used to be owned by Tammy Wynette, Juliette said). Khouri and Nashville are wisely determined to avoid making Juliette a shallow vixen or villain. She truly wants Deacon in her band because she admires his talent, and yearns for the respect his work has earned.

This was contrasted with the other love triangle — Scarlett and Gunnar were offered a chance to cut a demo with Watty, thus causing strain between the romantic couple of Scarlett and Avery. Me, I’m rooting for Gunnar to prevail in all areas. The glimpse we got of him covering the Ray Price classic “I’ll be There” was far superior to the taste we got of the “alt-country-punk” music Avery makes — it’s no wonder that kid is struggling.

Alas, the entire political subplot involving Rayna’s dad (Powers Boothe) and Rayna’s husband (Eric Close) sounded imported from an old episode of Dallas. Something’s got to get better here, and maybe it will. The challenge for the series is to show Rayna becoming more alienated from her husband’s mayoral run without having us feel the same way about it.

The hour peaked exactly as it should have, though: With a scene that demonstrated why a Rayna-Deacon tour would be something you’d pay money for. Sitting in the Bluebird Cafe, their lovely duet brought immense pleasure to everyone except Juliette, who was hurt and heart-broken. Shortly before the hour ended, director R.J. Cutler offered a scene that paralleled an earlier one: Instead of Deacon getting into Juliette’s automobile, Rayna left Deacon alone in his.

Nashville has a number of hurdles to clear — ABC was already, earlier in the evening, promoting an almost desperate-looking campaign that emphasized that you don’t have to like country music to like this show. That’s a loser’s approach. The series has to continue to stand proud and hardcore for the music and atmosphere it wants to evoke.

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps


Legendary music icon Rayna Jaymes struggles to maintain her place in the spotlight while dealing with the ambitious rising pop vixen Juliette Barnes.
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