Nashville

Hayden Panetierre and Connie Britton of ABC's "Nashville." (ABC / February 14, 2013)

"You can kiss my decision as it's walking out the door."

That line made me fall in love with Rayna Jaymes and with "Nashville" (9 p.m. Oct. 10, ABC; 4 stars out of 4), the country-tinged soap opry the character rules. How long Rayna's rule will last is at the heart of the series, the best of this fall's new shows.

Rayna (Connie Britton) is country's reigning queen, but her hit-making days are going the way of her traditional brand of country music. Her latest record's not selling and her tour is flopping, so her record label wants to make Rayna the opening act for Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panetierre), a bitchy young crossover artist who is a walking billboard for auto-tune and push-up bras.

Juliette has a tragic backstory waiting to become a ballad, but she wants to forget the past and put a stiletto into Rayna's backside to get to the top. "My mama was one of your biggest fans. She said she'd listen to you while I was still in her belly!" she tells Rayna. Juliette's already sleeping with—I mean working with—Rayna's producer and has an eye on her band manager, Deacon Clayborne (Charles Esten).

After Rayna tells off her label—the quote above sums up her attitude about the combined tour—she knows she needs a plan to survive. But her floundering career isn't her only problem. Rayna's family gets in on the act, too. Her father, local businessman and kingmaker Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), woos her easily manipulated hubby, Teddy Conrad (Eric Close), into running for Nashville mayor. Rayna throws a fit because she knows her scheming father isn't one to do anything without expecting pay-back, and she prides herself on being a self-made woman. She won't even dip into her trust fund because she doesn't want to be under daddy's thumb.

Additional story lines involve Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio), an aspiring musician who works as a deejay at the famous Bluebird Cafe; Deacon's niece Scarlett (Clare Bowen), the waitress whose poetry Gunnar thinks would make great song lyrics; and bad-boy musician Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), whom Scarlett is dating. Veteran singer-songwriter JD Souther has a wonderful supporting role as radio host Watty White, an old friend and mentor to Rayna.

Show creator Callie Khouri, the Oscar-winning writer of "Thelma & Louise," deftly weaves these story threads together and grounds the show in a captivating reality. She has created rich histories for each of her compelling characters. The actors give nuanced performances that make their characters more than one-dimensional cliches.

You don't have to love country music to enjoy "Nashville," but know that Khouri enlists her own husband, legendary musician T Bone Burnett, as her executive music producer. And cast members sing all the songs that fans will eagerly search for on iTunes.

Besides, "Nashville" is just as irresistible as Rayna. "I'm not ready to hang up my rhinestones just yet," she declares defiantly. I'm not ready for her to hang them up either.

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