One thing that soap operas and country music have in common is stories that involve sex. The new ABC nighttime soap, “Nashville,” is no exception. But to the show’s credit, it’s also presented an interesting storyline about preserving sex until marriage – and it appears to be partially inspired by popular football player Tim Tebow.
Hayden Panettiere plays Juliette Barnes, a young country music superstar who flaunts her sex appeal, is adored by legions of girls and teens, and who has earned oodles of money for herself and her record company. For viewers, her arrogance about her success is tempered by her backstory of being raised in poverty by a drug-addicted mother who often neglected her.
When Juliette’s strung out mother reappears in her life to ask for money, the young singer is frustrated that the ugly past she’s tried to keep secret could derail her success. She resorts to shoplifting because she used to do it as a kid in order to feel she had some control of her own life. A fan, however, captures the shoplifting on camera and the video goes viral, making Juliette a pariah to fans and the record label.
In order to do damage control, her publicist sets her up with a squeaky clean NFL quarterback named Sean Butler (Tilky Jones). At first, Juliette can barely tolerate his club-soda-drinking, goody-two-shoes ways, so she nicknames him “choir boy.” She persuades him to go clubbing with her and discovers he’s more likable than she first thought. He even defends her honor when a paparazzo starts harassing her about her mother.
Things eventually start getting hot and heavy between Juliette and Sean until he puts a stop to them, saying he believes that sex should be confined to marriage because he respects women too much just to use them in that way. This really confuses Juliette, who isn’t used to being turned down. She interprets it as a rejection of sorts and the romance seems to be derailed. When Sean shows up at Juliette’s big comeback performance at the Ryman with flowers and the message that he genuinely cares about her, the singer’s perception of him – and herself – changes. It appears to be the first time that anyone has treated Juliette with that level of dignity and respect, putting some higher good ahead of the promise of personal pleasure.
Sean invites Juliette to attend church with his family, and she nervously agrees, giving the impression that she hasn’t set foot in God’s house in quite some time. Sean’s teenage sister, Dana (played with a wonderful mixture of wholesomeness and fan adulation by Madison Lintz), is humbled by the opportunity to meet her idol, and even gets her to agree to sing a song with the church choir. They perform a number called “For Your Glory,” providing Juliette with a novel experience that conveys a level of purity that an ordinary concert can’t.
When Juliette arrives for Sunday dinner with the Butlers, she gives Dana a gift: pink boots from one of her music videos. When Dana says she can’t accept them because they’re too expensive, Juliette tells her that she never had a sister so she wants her to have them. For Juliette, who can often come across like a shark, this is a moment of sincerity. Dinner with the family also goes well, and Juliette seems transformed by the type of stable, loving family she always wanted but never had.
Those warm, fluffy feelings come to an end when Sean’s mother privately confronts Juliette and accuses her of being trailer trash who is just using her son to rehabilitate her image. Juliette insists that’s not the case, but Mama Butler isn’t buying it.
As the show’s winter finale ended, Juliette decided to move forward with her relationship with Sean anyway. Actually, she asks Sean to marry her. Fade to black. Presumably, that’s where the storyline will pick up when the show returns with new episodes on Wednesday Jan. 9 at 10E/9C.
The writers of this storyline deserve credit not only for creating a character like Sean Butler, but for making him a likable, well-rounded, morally-grounded person. Too often, male characters on TV who are virgins are portrayed as dorks who need to get over their sexual hangups. Tim Tebow, the obvious inspiration for Sean Butler, certainly gets treated that way by the press sometimes. But by putting this kind of story into dramatic form, the positive side of this lifestyle choice is presented. Sean Butler doesn’t treat human beings like objects to be used, but rather as reflections of God who possess an inherent dignity. The show doesn’t get preachy and hit you over the head with this message; it’s simply evident in what transpires.
Maybe more importantly, it shows the effect that being treated with that kind of dignity can have on a woman who never saw her inherent worth, but only the worth that her worldly success brought her. Hayden Panetierre convincingly conveys how much of a revelation this is to her. And it’s not just about the relationship with Sean, but the whole concept of what a family should be. She might even be more in love with the idea of a loving family than she is with Sean.
Since Tilky Jones, who plays Sean Butler, is a guest star, not a regular, on “Nashville,” I’m guessing there will be a break-up in the near future. I doubt the producers in charge would tie one of their leads to a permanent relationship so quickly. Regardless, they’ve done a service to viewers of the show already by respectfully presenting a counter-cultural love story on network television. Maybe Juliette will even write a song about it.