ABC took a risk when it picked up Nashville, a new drama set in the world of country-western – the most love-it-or-hate-it genre in music. But based on early reviews, the risk has paid off, with even Liane Bonin Star at HitFix, whose "appreciation of country music doesn't extend much beyond Johnny Cash," singling out the show as fall's most exciting series. Nashville tells the story of Rayna James (Connie Britton), an aging country-western singer whose dominance is threatened by a rising young star (Hayden Panettiere). The show, which officially premieres on ABC tonight, has earned more enthusiastic reviews than any other new drama in the fall TV schedule. (Watch Nashville's premiere episode below.) What makes it so good? Here, 4 theories:
1. It's perfectly cast
As Rayna, Connie Britton is "her usual marvelous self," says Bonin Star at HitFix, playing the down-on-her-luck character so convincingly that "you'd expect to bump into her at Costco." But the cast's most pleasant surprise is Hayden Panettiere, whose performance as the sexy, malevolent Juliette is "a revelation" after a string of roles in which Panettiere was "pretty to look at but not much more." With the combined strength of its two female leads, and stellar supporting turns from reliable actors like Powers Boothe and Eric Close, Nashville is one of the best-acted series on network TV.
2. It captures the essence of country music
Nashville understands that country music has remained so enduringly popular because "its songs tell human stories," says David Wiegand at the San Francisco Chronicle. And the series pays homage to the songs at its center by telling a story about "love, loss, hope, betrayal, jealousy, fear, and reassurance." As a result, Nashville is best described as "one extended country song," packed with enough stories and characters that anyone can find something in the series with which to identify.
3. It's not just another Glee
In the months leading up to Nashville's premiere, many prematurely dismissed it as "another Glee or Smash, only with country music," says Emily Yahr at The Washington Post. But in Nashville, "the series drives the music, not the other way around." The original country soundtrack (overseen by Oscar-winning musician T Bone Burnett) is "expertly threaded" into the plot, but unlike the denizens of Glee's high school, Nashville's characters "don't randomly burst into song or put on a show for viewers." The result: A series that's a drama first and a showcase for country music second.
4. It's uniquely relevant to contemporary American life
Nashville is the first series that really speaks to "the economic worry and pain this country is feeling without being heavy-handed about it," says David Zurawik at the Baltimore Sun. In Nashville's pilot, the owner of Rayna's record label tells her to "find your place in a new market" — a conversation that many real Americans have recently had "as our nation and our economy goes through an epic period of transformation." The series' realistic take on the difficulties of the American job market will resonate with baby boomers across the country.