For a brief period in the late 1960s and early '70s, country singers and songwriters George Jones and Tammy Wynette had it all: the epic romance and the chart-topping tunes. But then, like most sweeping love stories do in real life, it all came crashing down when the couple divorced in 1975.
Showtime began capturing that moment of country music history with the debut of its new limited series, George & Tammy.
The six-episode series stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain in the title roles. The premiere tracks the couple during their first big meeting, when Tammy lands her dream gig opening up for George. Despite his initial gruff manners, his eventual charm and lavish gifts win her over, and they end up falling for each other and riding off into the sunset.
Well, not really, as the rest of the episodes will uncover. In real life it was a whirlwind relationship with many ups and downs over a six-year marriage.
For those in need of a refresher or an introduction to the famous couple and why their story is the stuff of TV dramas, here, Metacritic breaks down everything to know following the premiere.
Even if you think you were unfamiliar with Tammy before this series, you likely heard her most popular song, "Stand By Your Man." But that was just one of her hits. Over her career, the "First Lady of Country Music" had 21 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
In her personal life, Tammy had a rough upbringing and arrived in Nashville with her three daughters when she was in her early twenties. She was married five times in her life. George was her third husband, and the partner with whom she had her fourth daughter, Georgette Jones.
When George and Tammy met, she was still married to Don Chapel (Pat Healy), who made a memorable appearance in the first episode during that extremely uncomfortable dinner scene. It was a dinner scene that ended in table flip to rival Teresa Giudice on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, for those who may have forgotten.
As the series shows, Chapel never stood a chance when George began pursing Tammy. Although she played coy and didn't give into his advances at first, their tension (at least onscreen) is palpable.
George was also a successful musician and performer before he met Tammy. Although it's unclear whether he actually flushed money down the toilet, (as he is seen doing in the series' first scene), he was known for his distinct voice and unique phrasing. Many viewers were probably already acquainted with his most popular song, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
As for his nickname, he was known as "The Rolls Royce of Country Music" and he had more than 160 chart singles before his death in 2013.
George married four times (Tammy was his third wife). Like Tammy, George had four children (including Georgette Jones). He also grappled with alcoholism for a good portion of his life, which is a big part of the character's introduction in the premiere.
Viewers get a hint at George and Tammy's onscreen chemistry in the first episode, when he briefly joins her onstage during her act. In real life, the fact that both George and Tammy were famous for living the songs they sang was part of the appeal, which was something else the show begins setting up in Episode 1.
As the couple fell in love and began singing duets, fans continued to respond. "Take Me" was from their first album in 1971, while the 1972 song "The Ceremony" was an actual song version of their wedding vows. Given that, it's no wonder their tour bus once read "Mr. and Mrs. Country Music."
Altogether, the couple released nine studio albums, five compilation albums, and 14 chart singles on the Billboard Hot Country Singles list — three of which were No. 1 hits.
Part of their ongoing success was their ability to share the spotlight. The duo allowed each other to headline while on tour depending on who would do better at the venue. So far viewers have only gotten a glimpse of that tour life in the series, namely when George bestows his old tour bus on Tammy. (Until then was tagging along with her kids in her old car.)
Perhaps it was a sign of their passion, but as much as this couple loved each other, they also fought hard. In her memoir, Tammy wrote that George once chased her through the house with a loaded riffle — though he denied that in his own memoir. George's alcoholism also took a toll on their relationship.
By 1973 Tammy had filed for divorce, but the pair reconciled and released "We're Gonna Hold On." Things fell apart again, forcing Tammy to re-file, and the couple officially divorced in 1975 with George letting Tammy have everything: custody of their daughter, the band, the tour bus, and their home in Nashville.
The good news is they continued to be in each other's lives in the years that followed. In 1976 they followed up their divorce with the duets "Golden Ring" and "Near You." Unfortunately, though, George continued a downward spiral with alcohol, earning him the nickname "No Show" on tour.
Of course, the dramatization of that is still to come throughout the next five episodes.
In 1981 George met his fourth (and final) wife, Nancy Sepulvado. He credited her as saving his life and helping him to get sober. Meanwhile Tammy was sicker than ever, having had multiple operations, including a hysterectomy. She became addicted to painkillers and eventually died at the age of 55. Her official cause of death was a blood clot to the lungs.
The limited series is adapted from the memoir, The Three of Us: Growing Up With Tammy and George, which was written by the performers' daughter, Georgette Jones.
If fans were impressed with Chastain's pipes during her rendition of "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," they should have been. That was indeed Chastain singing. During production in North Carolina, Chastain and Shannon did all of their own singing, which is impressive considering those long stretches when both actors performed entire songs on stage or in the recording studio.
New episodes of George & Tammy stream Fridays and air at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.