Arrow, Nashville produce welcome pilots late in the game

Although we are nearly a month into the new TV season, the networks are only now rolling out some of their best series.

Take Arrow (8 p.m., CW57), which will debut Wednesday. Adapted from the Green Arrow comic book hero, it features my favorite stock character: the billionaire playboy.

In this case, he's the somewhat effeminately named Oliver Queen (played by the anything but effeminate Stephen Amell). After a tragic yachting accident (is there any other kind?), Olly spent five years marooned on a rugged island in the North China Sea.

Now he's back in Starling City. His best friend and wingman (Colin Donnell) brings him up to speed. "What else did you miss? Super Bowl winners: Giants, Steelers, Saints, Packers, Giants again," he says. "A black president. That's new. And Lost? They were all dead . . . I think."

But Oliver is a changed man. First, he's a deadly martial arts master, capable of taking on heavily armed men with his bare hands; he's a pin-a-fly-to-the-wall archer. And he's got a vigilante to-do list that he dons a green hoodie to secretly pursue.

He's also got an ex-girlfriend (Katie Cassidy) whose sister died in lingerie on the yacht and a druggie younger sister of his own (Willa Holland). Everybody calls his sibling Speedy, which was the nickname of the Green Arrow's male sidekick in the comics.

Now Oliver splits his time between stately Queen manor and the seedy, crime-infested back alleys of Starling City. Batman vibe? You bet.

The pilot of Arrow is a darkly gleaming gem. If the show can keep up its cinema-quality action sequences and maintain an air of mystery to Ollie's agenda, this could be a really fun series.

If not, it's a shiny, badly acted Slip 'n Slide.

Another welcome late arrival on Wednesday nights is ABC's Nashville (10 p.m., 6ABC), the first good TV series ever about Music City and a pungent prime time soap in its own right.

There are a lot of snakes in the grass down in this river city in Tennessee.

Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton of Friday Night Lights) is "the reigning queen of country". But her new album isn't charting and ticket sales for her tour are tanking.

Instead, everyone is talking about Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere of Heroes), a glitzy young blonde out of the Taylor Swift/Carrie Underwood mold.

Except this gal is pure poison, conniving, ruthless and using sex like a trampoline to the top.

Rayna's got to watch her other flank, because her daddy, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), one of the most powerful and malevolent men in the state, has flattered Rayna's husband (Eric Close) into running for mayor of Nashville. Lamar's motives, as always, are pretty satanic.

There are a number of promising supporting characters orbiting the protagonists, including lovelorn guitarist/songwriter/recovering alcoholic Deacon (Charles Esten), moony lyricist Scarlett (Claire Bowen) and a terrific JD Souther (who co-wrote many songs including "Victim of Love" with the Eagles) as legendary producer Watty White.

What sets Nashville apart, to its enormous advantage, is the music. Executive musical producer T Bone Burnett has coaxed really winning vocals from most of the cast, all of whom do their own singing. (Or maybe it's a case of, as someone says at one of Juliette's recording sessions, "Thank God for auto-tune.")

But the music succeeds because of the first-rate songs, some previously recorded by other artists and some written expressly for the show by such songwriters as the Civil Wars' John Paul White.

You don't have to like country to enjoy Nashville with its twisty plot threads of ego, sex, ambition, backstabbing and regret. And Rayna and Juliette could give us TV's best catfight since Krystle tangled with Alexis on Dynasty.

Kick your boots off. Prepare to set a spell.

 


Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552, dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv.