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‘Nashville’ sings, ‘Arrow’ hits mark, ‘Fire’ fizzles

By Rob Hedelt, The Free Lance-Star

Well-made dramas are becoming the calling card of this fall’s TV premières, with ABC’s “Nashville” and the CW’s “Arrow” joining the ranks of those worth watching.

 There are still those that don’t work at all, with NBC’s new “Chicago Fire” joining that club.

  “Nashville” is the newest, freshest and most fully formed drama to arrive so far, benefiting from two great leading ladies and subplots so deep it will take a season of country songs to explain them all.

  That will happen, because this show is about a country superstar whose age and lack of fresh new music is starting to hurt her brand.

 A young upstart (read, maybe, as Taylor Swift) with a sexy image and and unbridled ambition is nipping at the heels of the country queen.

The two are played by Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) and Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”), and that’s a really good thing.

  Britton is the perfect choice to play Rayna James, the country superstar whose records and concerts aren’t selling like they once did.  She’s beautiful and believable doing the singing. But beyond that she’s an actress who can deliver the part of a superstar at a crossroads, torn by the demands of job, family and desire to once again be queen of country music.

  Just as good as newcomer Juliette Barnes is Hayden Panettiere, who makes the ambitious young singer someone who’ll do anything to succeed.

 The show is done well, so the two lead roles have more than one dimension.

 Rayna’s the sympathetic, decent one, but she’s got some skeletons in her closet. Like the love she maintains but never acts on with her band’s guitarist, Deacon.

  Juliette’s not above sleeping her way to every break, but she’s also a bit of a tortured soul, haunted by a drug-using mother who is always turning up for money.

  Toss in Rayna’s power-broker father (Powers Boothe), her failure of a husband (Eric Close) and two unknown musicians on the cusp of greatness, and there are plot lines aplenty.

  But Britton’s the one who’ll make folks come back.  She’s the one with the kind soul viewers will root for here, bless her heart.

 And she can shake it when she needs to make it.

  ONE  COOL COMIC

The CW’s new “Arrow” isn’t a deep, thoughtful drama.  It’s a well-executed  action comic series with a gritty tone and a back story that makes it clear this isn’t another sweet series like “Smallville.” 

 From the frenetic start of the pilot, when we see a nearly feral man in a hood scrambling across a rocky island, running for his life, we realize this is something different.

  It’s a stark telling of the comic book story of Green Arrow.

  On the CW’s “Smallville” series, the rich character of Oliver Queen was around, but he was nowhere near as tough and tortured as this.

   This time out, there’s a darker approach. Queen returns from being stranded on a deserted island. He’s no longer the rich and distracted young playboy. Now, he’s tenaciously tough and focused.

  Told by his father of evil in Starling City, he’s primed for revenge, to clean up the city he realizes his father and others have sold out.

  Action comes quickly, with Arrow using a bow and martial arts dominance.

  This works because Stephen Amell nails the role of Oliver Queen, making the vigilante crime-fighter a hardened soul struggling to atone for sins in his earlier life.  Plus, the action’s cool and the good guy wins.

  WIMPY FIRE

 “Law &  Order” creator Dick Wolf swings and misses badly with his new “Chicago Fire.” 

It isn’t that a show about a fire company in Chicago can’t be good. Viewers would love to see a good drama about what life is like at the firehouse.

  But the guys and gals at this firehouse—where the rescue squad folks and fire folks are forever squabbling—just aren’t that likable and the action’s dull.

  Sure, a firefighter has died—just a few minutes into the pilot—and everyone’s upset.

  But this “ER” wannabe  forgot  to give us characters we care about. Australian  actor and “House” veteran Jesse Spencer is not believable here as a fireman struggling with  loss.

   “Law and Order” was around forever.  This one won’t be.

 

Rob Hedelt:  540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

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