Rebecca Barry Hill: United states of uh-oh

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Power, sex and money are king in Nashville, which stars Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton.
Power, sex and money are king in Nashville, which stars Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton.

They've got Dallas, The OC, Beverley Hills 90210. We've got ... Auckland Daze and hopefully one day, CSI Roto-Vegas. Next on Hollywood's list: Nashville (TV One, Wednesdays, 9.30pm) and Fargo (SoHo, Wednesdays, 9.30pm), two successful settings-reliant pilots that screened this week.

Nashville may not have Fargo's stunning cinematic landscape - (who knew Nashville was so green?) - and although it takes itself just a bit more seriously than its far north TV cousin, it's shaping up to be a show worth settling in for. It's a simple enough premise. Connie Britton (American Horror Story) plays Rayna James, a veteran country star whose upcoming tour risks losing money, so her record company suggests she go on the road with hot young ingenue, Juliette Barnes. Rayna's appalled. Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is the country music equivalent of Miley Cyrus, a snide wild-child who uses her sexuality to get what she wants. She sings (with Auto-Tune's help) about boys and buses. And she might just have stolen Rayna's lead guitarist Deacon, who might just turn out to be The One.

Like every good soapy drama, Nashville deals in power, sex and money. On top of Rayna's popularity woes, she's dealing with a tyrannical father who wants her wet blanket husband to run for mayor. The guy is as alpha as a tortured lamb.

The other subplot seems to exist if only to pull in younger viewers - that of the pretty young waitress who should really be a star, quite possibly because the writers want us to know that not all of Gen Y are A-holes. Some of them are even quite poetic. And despite some rushed set-ups - Rayna literally running to support her husband at the mayoral campaign (like she didn't know?), the show felt comfortable in its own skin. No doubt the soundtrack is coming to an iTunes account near you.

Meanwhile, like the classic Coen Brothers' 1996 film, Fargo is set in rural Minnesota and the tale is steeped in its snow-drenched culture, much like the agoraphobic film was on which it was based. Its droll delivery has since become familiar - Breaking Bad took that irresistible combination of danger and the mundane to the extreme - and it's the kind of drawn-out pace that'll either have you clinging on for dear life or scratching your head and saying "aw jeez".

You can feel the gentle, affectionate ribbing towards the region as the slightly simple sheriff's deputy Molly (Allison Tolmon) investigates a frozen body in the wasteland. Or when the bumbling hen-pecked Lester finds himself in trouble, having split his wife's head open with a hammer. The Minnie-soowtans are portrayed as humble folk from a place where you don't have to worry about much more than which shade of white to paint the nursery. Until someone's murdered, that is.

Fargo has none of the original characters from the film - not even the loveable Margie (played with Oscar-winning perfection by Frances McDormand) but so far it appears to be an exercise in tonal mimicry.

The body count was high for the pilot but, like the source material, it's based on decent, hard-working characters rubbing up against their deadly opposites.

The acting is arguably less subtle: a tweaky Martin Freeman plays the parallel to William H. Macy's Jerry: a man deep in the brown stuff. But so far it's Billy Bob Thornton's show. As the town's unpredictable outlier, Lorne, he's extremely compelling. Watching Lester's mind tick over when Lorne showed up to help him deal with the cops was riveting and funny. Can Lorne be trusted? Nope. Can such relentless uh-oh moments be sustained? Let's hope so.

- TimeOut

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