September 25, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Nashville”


NASHVILLE:  Wednesday 10PM on ABC

NASHVILLE has both improved and flattened out over time.  When the series started, it was frustratingly uneven, but also trying to do something potentially exciting:  combine the appeal of a traditional TV serial with stories that would talk frankly about women in show business (of various ages) and the country music machine in general.  For the most part, it’s settled for being an above-average soap, well-performed but sparking to life mostly with its musical performances.  (The always marginally-rated series tried to generate some buzz with tonight’s Season 3 premiere by integrating several live musical numbers into the filmed drama, with Charles Esten and Chris Carmack in character as Deacon and Will.  The performances themselves were first-rate as usual, although series creator Callie Khouri, directing the episode, was unable to match the visual styles of the two formats precisely.)

The episode itself, written by showrunner Dee Johnson, was occupied with resolving last spring’s cliffhangers.  Rayna (Connie Britton), proposed to by both Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) and old love Deacon on the same night, chose the safety of Luke, a decision that would have had more suspense if the opening credits hadn’t telegraphed it by establishing that Chase is now a series regular.  Juliette’s (Hayden Panettiere) fling with evil record label head Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) led Avery (Jonathan Jackson) to break up with her, which propelled her to cut her hair (much less severely than the scene as shot and edited suggested it was going to be), and throw so much emotion into an audition for a Patsy Cline biography that she won the part.  The big reveal at the end of the episode was that Juliette was pregnant, which would have been more of a shock if Panettiere’s real-life pregnancy weren’t known.  (Since Juliette is less pregnant than Panettiere, the actress is already being carefully photographed from the neck down.)  Scarlett (Claire Bowen), having decided to abandon Nashville after last season’s on-stage meltdown, ended up with both Avery and Gunnar (Sam Palladio) in the car with her, and by the end of the hour she’d turned back–it was the most endearing storyline of the night, and particularly nice to see Palladio and Bowen, who usually have the most lugubrious time on Nashville, get to do something a little bit lighthearted.  The only plotline left open was what’s to happen with the marriage of Will and Layla (Aubrey Peeples), now that she–and the producers of the couple’s in-production reality show–know that Will is gay.

Nashville rolls along more efficiently these days than it did at the start, and it’s smartly pruned away (Powers Boothe as Rayna’s father) or at least back (Eric Close as Rayna’s now ex-husband) a lot of the characters who were cluttering the story.  Khouri, Johnson and the other writer/producers have a good feel for what their actors can do, and the cast that’s left is uniformly strong, with Panettiere particularly impressive both vocally and dramatically.

What’s missing is the seriousness of purpose that was driving the show at least part of the time at first.  Rayna, originally conceived a a star past her commercial peak, is now a fantasy figure with her own label and two eminently desirable men fighting over her, and Juliette, at one time a symbol of the way country was going pop, has rediscovered her commitment to traditional music, and has so much sad backstory that just about all of her outrageous antics are by now excusable.  That makes Nashville more effective as escapist entertainment, but less interesting than it once promised to be.

At this point it’s clear that Nashville is unlikely ever to be a sizable hit in the ratings.  It does give ABC and its studios (Lionsgate and ABC’s own in-house entity) revenue through its successful music releases, however, and that’s helped keep it on the air–and an in-house series that manages to reach Season 3 has a strong chance of lasting through Season 4 (ratings collapses aside), since that’s when the value of syndicated episodes takes a leap.  So Nashville is far from done, and perhaps before it’s finished, it will try to match the ambition of its early days with its currently greater ease at telling compelling stories.

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."