Four Things I Like About ABC’s Drama Series Nashville and a Couple of Complaints

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I am not one who stays glued to prime-time television. I have just a couple of current shows that I care about, and then beyond that, I take advantage of Netflix to play catch-up on the really good and edgy stuff we miss in our household because we ditched cable a couple of years back as part of a financial reboot.

I try to be intentional about investing my time and attention in a series, but fairly early on, I did drink the Kool-Aid and become a regular viewer of ABC’s evening soap set in the city I have called home for almost two decades.

It really is cool that the show is filmed here, and the location folks do such a great job of highlighting the landscapes of our community. Nashville–for better or worse–is now one of America’s “it cities,” and the weekly drama about the trials, tribulations, and misdeeds of the recording industry has certainly played a part in driving tourist growth and related media attention.

So, let me break down the elements of Music City where the show’s creators seem in tune with reality and where they might hit a bit of an off note. No, I am not personally a part of the music business, and yes, I realize that the show is a work of fiction. But, I am the sort of detail-oriented citizen who thinks about this kind of stuff.

What’s good…

Refreshing Restraint with the Accents and Such
In the past, Hollywood has presented county music and the city of Nashville with thick Dixie drawls and over-the-top down-home caricatures. In reality, many folks in this dynamic region are from other parts of the country, and those of us who hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line may speak with varying levels of twang.

Hee Haw was a beloved fixture of my ’70s boyhood and showcased some talented entertainers of its day, but today’s country music and the city that made that genre famous have evolved into something with new demographics that don’t necessarily fit the old portrayals.

The Young Hipsters Trying to Catch Their Big Break
I both reside and work in the area where the Metro Nashville/Davidson County line bleeds over into two of the suburban counties. Yet, when I make it into the center of the city for nightlife and cultural events, I often encounter young adults that really do remind me of Scarlett, Avery, and Gunner in the way they present themselves.

Of course, it’s important to not let that image become yet another cliche. However, I think it’s a fair assessment to say that this city has a large contingent of pretty folks with that same artsy vibe.

Will Lexington: One of Network TV’s Best Gay Characters
Speaking of young and attractive, Will Lexington’s journey from deep inside the closet to varying degrees of openness rings true on a number of fronts. Recently,Chely Wright and Ty Herndon have tested the socially conservative boundaries of country music by becoming out and proud. Granted, it’s an industry where things are still a couple of decades behind where they should be, but change is unfolding. I think the pacing of fictional Will’s steps toward self-acceptance nicely parallels where things stand on the public face of the business.

On a more general level, I think that the portrayal of Will and his interactions with other men conveys a balanced and nuanced exploration of the gay experience that is absolutely top-notch. Often times, television shows stick to the familiar stereotypes to spell out their glbt cred in big bold letters, and after a while those patterns seem rather limiting. Yet, at the same time, when creators strive mightily to go in the opposite direction and present gay people who “don’t seem gay,” it feels like a forced exercise without much authenticity.

There is such a thing as “gaydar,” and it’s not necessarily a matter of masculinity or femininity. Rather, it’s about a certain kind of eye contact and posturing that is hard to explain in words, but it’s real. Actor Chris Carmack absolutely nails it in his portrayal of Will and his day-to-day struggles.

Jeff Fordham: J.R. Ewing with More Attentive Eyebrow Grooming
Oliver Hudson, sister to romantic comedy princess Kate Hudson and son of  beloved entertainment icon Goldie Hawn, shines as the deliciously evil record mogul Jeff Fordham. Jeff stops at nothing to crush protagonist Rayna James (played by Emmy-nominated Connie Britton) and her valiant efforts to champion her fledgling independent label Highway 65. Jeff also has a track record of sleeping with the young starlets like Juliette Barnes and Layla Grant. When I talk to people who work in the music business, it sounds like these cut-throat corporate antics provide at least some measure of a familiar tune.

A Couple of Complaints…

Paparazzi That Don’t Exist or At least Haven’t Materialized Just Yet
When I first moved to Nashville in the ’90s, I worked retail. I waited on several celebrities, and they seemed to move around the aisles with complete ease. Over the years, like a fair number of Nashvillians, I have seen Vince Gill and Amy Grant (and their offspring) at the mall, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman at both Whole Foods and the movies, and Naomi Judd walking the streets of historic Downtown Franklin. Absolutely no one was causing a scene in any of these cases. No cameras, no screaming, no shoving.

In ABC’s fictional version of Music City, however, the famous artists contend with a Hollywood-style media gauntlet. For example, in one episode, Rayna encountered a slew of pushy reporters when she dropped off one of her daughters at school. While the school building shown was indeed one of our lovely historic educational institutions, the chaos depicted doesn’t seem to be happening here, unless I am missing something. However, I am afraid there might be the risk of life imitating art. The digital section of  Rolling Stone has opened a special country Web site and a Nashville office. Perhaps a new culture of celebrity glitz could be in the works?

A Nashville in which the Music Industry and the Local Political Leadership Are One in the Same
Rayna, a well-established diva with long-standing ties in the community is both the ex-wife of the current (fictional) mayor of Nashville and also the daughter of a recently deceased former mayor, a tycoon who had his finger in just about every pie of the city’s power structure.

Perhaps mixing politics and show business makes for good drama, but the two worlds really don’t come together so tightly. Granted, the legendary Roy Acuff ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Tennessee in 1948, and current industry figures such as Mike Curb wield a great deal of influence in the community through their philanthropy. Yet, these two worlds are not quite as intertwined in real life as they seem to be on television.