Television Review: Nashville, Season 1

I’m slightly annoyed at Netflix for two reasons, one of which isn’t Netflix’s fault. The first, legitimate reason is that the second season of Nashville isn’t on there yet. The second reason has nothing to do with Netflix, and it’s that I just assumed that because Nashville was a network drama that there would be 22 episodes in its first season, but in actuality there are only 21. I was really confused about the montage in the first season finale because I thought it was really strange that these things were happening in the season’s penultimate episode, so upon learning it was actually the finale those events made much more sense. These complaints have nothing to do with Nashville itself, which I absolutely loved, and watched far too quickly for my own good. As I wrote last week, it has Connie Britton, music, love triangles and my favourite thing, which is lots of kissing.

I’m never not going to be a shipper, but if I’m into a couple, it’s because there’s been good character development that makes me want that couple to make it work. This is why I don’t care about Cosima and Delphine on Orphan Black; the groundwork hasn’t been laid, especially given that Delphine was spying on Cosima when their relationship started. Nashville put in the groundwork, and that’s why I was able to get invested in Rayna and Deacon’s lost love. Todd VanDerWerff wrote in his review of the second episode of the season, “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” that sex is just a thing that happens between two people on Nashville. The real intimacy comes when you write a song with someone, and Deacon and Rayna have been writing songs together for over 20 years. Rayna has a connection with Deacon that she’ll never have with Teddy, and she’s reminded of that when Deacon asks her to come up and sing with him at the Bluebird cafe. I became so invested in Rayna and Deacon that I was not a Liam fan, despite my love for Michael Huisman (the way the came onto her in Atlanta seemed too aggressive), and I found it to be incredibly tense when Rayna was going to go away with him.

The Rayna/Deacon relationship is Nashville’s core relationship, not because of any romantic tension, but because they are soulmates in a musical sense, and we can see various iterations of their relationship reflected in other key pairings on the show. The first of those is Gunnar and Scarlett, who is Deacon’s niece, who start writing music together and fall in love along the way. Scarlett is just about the sweetest girl in the world, and Gunnar is a nice alternative to her boyfriend Avery, who is willing to do whatever it takes to make it as a musician, including sleeping with a potential manager. Scarlett loves Avery, but she realises that his ambitions will always come before her, and makes the choice to leave him. I was slightly disappointed when Scarlett and Gunnar became an item, but only because the platonic banter they had going was so enjoyable to watch. The relationship gets complicated when they sleep together for the first time after Gunnar’s brother dies (I wasn’t particularly interested in this plot), and Deacon is the only one who is able to pull Gunnar out of his spiralling depression. Gunnar’s grief is a reflection of Deacon’s addiction, and since Deacon confessed that the only reason he got clean was for Rayna, Scarlett has that power as well. Clare Bowen’s performance is the standout of the first season, her performance is nuanced, as Scarlett is a shy, happy person who is also able to put her foot down when the men in her life are being assholes.

The other reflection of Rayna and Deacon is Juliette’s relationship with her mother Joelene. Juliette grew up with an addict for a mother, and that informs most of her behaviour. Sure, she can be a brat, but there’s also the point that she’s searching for more; she releases pop music so that she can eventually make the music she wants to make, and she gets really annoyed when she sees Rayna’s face on a billboard in Times Square. Even though she has her own plane, she’s still trying to make up for her past and her scandalous image. I was a little disappointed that the show made the decision to have Joelene die from an overdose because watching these two characters was my favourite part of the show. Their history wasn’t pretty, but Joelene was family. Even though she didn’t want to admit it, Juliette needed her mother, and the scene where she goes to visit her mother’s coffin instead of going to the CMA Awards was a stunning piece of acting from Hayden Panettiere. She loves her mother, but she also hates her and resents her, and feels guilty for feeling that way. It’s a lot to live with. At the start of the series Juliette seemed like a plot device, but her relationship with her mother was so crucial to her character. That her mother purposefully engineered a murder-suicide to protect her from a sex tape scandal is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Nashville is a soap that’s about musicians and there’s a lot of sex in it, but it’s really a show about family. There’s Rayna’s relationship with her father and sister, who run some sort of company and back her husband for mayor (the mayoral storyline is the least interesting part of the show). Teddy’s problem with Rayna seeing Deacon has nothing to do with Rayna, and everything to do with the fact that he doesn’t want Deacon’s presence to ruin his relationship with his daughters, which is understandable when he walks in on them all singing a song by The Lumineers together. The biggest barrier to Rayna and Teddy’s marriage was always that Teddy wasn’t a musician, and Deacon can connect with the girls on a way that he just can’t.

Rayna and Juliette are both nominated for female vocalist of the year at the CMA Awards, but it’s telling that both of them leave the ceremony. Juliette leaves because her mother has just died and there’s no way she’ll be able to get onstage, and Rayna goes to be with her daughter who finds out that her biological father is Deacon and not Teddy. The awards are nice, but ultimately they don’t matter. Our main girls both have egos, which is where most of the conflict comes from, but they remember what keeps them grounded. It’s that focus on character, relationships and family that keep me watching, even more than my shipping interests.

Other thoughts:

  • I like that the show doesn’t make Rayna and Juliette best friends as soon as they go on tour together. I would love a show where these two women were hanging out and cracking wise, but it wouldn’t feel true to these characters who are too much alike to be really close friends. They are close enough that Rayna would go to Joelene’s funeral, because she knows both what it’s like to lose your mother, and to love an addict.
  • When Deacon and Rayna got together, I wondered how the show would be able to keep them apart, given that they’re clearly the end game (if this show goes on for so long that Charles Esten wants out of this show Josh Charles style I’m going to be upset), but I forgot the whole thing about Deacon being Maddy’s father.
  • Avery’s storyline became one of the most interesting on the show by the end, as he lost all the people he cared about for his career, and then ended up regretting it when he didn’t see eye to eye with his producer. It was nice to see him start working as a roadie on the tour and then work with Juliette to write that song.
  • I like that moment where Glenn goes to Juliette’s house in the finale to give her the award and a hug. This show can sometimes be heavy handed with the dialogue, but those moments where people don’t need to say anything is where the show shines.
  • The casting is great. I’m thrilled to see Bunny Colvin from The Wire, and Susan Misner pops up here as well. I like to think that Stacey and Liam found each other when they were dumped by Rayna and Deacon. Stacey definitely deserved that dog as well.
  • The music on this show is fantastic, and I haven’t made an effort to try and find everything, but I will.
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