May 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Nashville”


NASHVILLE doesn’t make more than a gesture these days toward having very much to say about the music industry, or the place of country music in American culture.  It’s simply a soap, and often an effective one; with this week’s renewal, it’s reached the promised land of a 4th season on the air, buffered from its weak ratings by an advertiser-friendly audience and music download sales.  Series creator Callie Khouri and co-showrunner Dee Johnson have proven themselves nimble in paring away characters that didn’t work and focusing on big-ticket storylines of star-crossed romance.  This season, they dealt well with the absence of Hayden Panettiere for part of the season due to her real-life pregnancy (her character Juliette Barnes was also pregnant), and used the opportunity to build up some of the show’s second echelon performers, like Lennon Stella and Aubrey Peeples (the latter is still credited as a recurring guest star, but she’s essentially been a key member of the ensemble all season), as well as Laura Benanti for a while, although she had an abrupt exit that was probably due to other commitments.  It also provided room for Luke Wheeler (Will Chase), something of a cardboard character last season as the new romantic interest for show queen Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) after she broke up with husband Teddy (Eric Close) and love of her life Deacon (Charles Esten), to become more interesting once he and Rayna broke up and he was given more to do.

Season 3 did a fair job with its major storyline, the liver cancer of Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), who as Rayna’s true love, father of Rayna’s daughter Maddie (Stella), and uncle of Scarlett (Claire Bowen), caused ripples through the entire show  Esten was very good as a recovering alcoholic whose illness changed the way he saw his life, and the scripts were sensitive in charting his ups and downs, even if the demands of the genre kept Deacon looking awfully good for one so sick.  The major cliffhanger of tonight’s finale (written by Khouri and Johnson and directed by Khouri) was the last-second news–foretold by Deacon’s nightmares–that something was going wrong in the operating room where he was getting a new kidney.  (It’s still hard to swallow the possibility that Nashville would seriously consider letting Esten go, absent a contract dispute.)

The finale also put an end to the story of Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) hiding in the closet, as he came out as gay at a press conference–in front of his disapproving dad, no less.  The episode advanced the postpartum craziness of Juliette, who by the end of the hour had thrown a glass ball at husband Avery (Jonathan Jackson), fired her loyal manager Glenn (Ed Amatrudo), left Rayna’s label, and signed not just with Luke’s but with the show’s devil, former record label owner Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson).  Fordham also became more complex this season than he’d been before, by virtue of his very mixed-up relationship with client/lover Layla Grant (Peeples), whom he exploits but perhaps genuinely loves.

Nashville still has its storytelling problems.  The show’s energy level declines by half whenever it cuts to Teddy , now the Mayor of Nashville, and currently under arrest after being caught in a sting operation with a prostitute.  It’s also time to bring some resolution to the will-they-or-won’t-they (again) tale of Scarlett and Gunnar (Sam Palladio), songwriting and singing partners who’ve spent seasons now making cow eyes at each other while involved with other people.  It’s sad, and a waste of Britton even if it’s the way she wants it (she’s also a producer of the series) that Rayna is limited to being Nashville‘s Earth Mother character.  Nevertheless, the series is well-paced and absorbing, and it has as many meaty parts for women as any show on the air.  Plus its cast has genuine musical chops, so much so that some of them go out on tour for actual concerts during hiatuses, which makes its musical numbers a pleasure to watch.

Nashville‘s ratings have always been no more than marginal, although it benefited this past season by airing against Chicago PD, Stalker and CSI: Cyber, none of which were particularly big hits either.  It’ll now face the new more female-skewing Code Black medical series on CBS, which may make things tougher.  Like the protagonists of its songs, though, the series is a survivor, and over time it’s only become better at doing what it does.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."