December 12, 2013

THE SKED Fall Finale Review: “Nashville”


How much guitar string does NASHVILLE have left?  Last night’s fall finale had a 1.4 rating in 18-49s, half a point below last season’s–which was already considered a major disappointment.  When you’re already below a 2, half a point is critically important, and at some point, the revenues ABC/Disney get from Nashville iTunes sales aren’t going to justify keeping the show on the air.

Which is a shame, because although the series can often be maddening–I didn’t think Scarlett (Claire Bowen) could be a more wearisome character than she was last year, but I was wrong–it can also surprise you with how smart and strong it’s capable of being.  Juliette (Hayden Panettiere), who started as a cartoon of boorish country mega-success, less Taylor Swift than Lindsay Lohan, has shifted to the point where she’s increasingly the emotional center of the show–her current not-quite-romance with the redeemed Avery (Jonathan Jackson) is the only relationship on the series worth rooting for these days.  (It helps that Avery would have to dump the aforementioned Scarlett, who’s become eminently dumpable.)  Rayna (Connie Britton), while the victim of the busy but uninteresting love life given to her by the writers, has become a vehicle for examining, with some degree of seriousness, the place of veteran artists in the music (and by extension, television) industry.  The writing and performing has been very sensitive in telling the story of Rayna’s teen daughter Daphne (Maisy Stella) finding out that her birth father was actually family friend Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) and not Teddy Conrad (Eric Close), the Mayor of Nashville and the man who’d been married to her mother since before she was born and raised her as his own.

The fall finale, written by Co-Executive Producers Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ullin, and directed by Patrick Norris, launched a couple of Hail Marys to drive viewer interest, but as is usually the case with Nashville, the series doesn’t manage commercial calculation particularly well.  One storyline suggested that closeted gay singer Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) may have thrown himself under a train after falling off the hetero wagon with a male publicist–it was a dramatic moment, but one assumes it was a cheat, since losing Will and his storylines would only hurt the show.  What probably is true is that recurring First Lady of Nashville Peggy Kanter Conrad (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), who as a character was mostly notable for successfully parlaying a faked pregnancy into marriage to Teddy, has been shot dead in a parking lot by someone aiming at her husband–presumably a hit put out by Rayna’s father Lamar (the recurring Powers Boothe).  The short if heartless response to this is, who cares?  Peggy was never a meaningful character, and Teddy is little better–lately he’s mostly been notable for his obnoxiousness to Deacon.   It’s hard to see how killing her makes the show any more intriguing, especially if it brings back Lamar and his tycoon skullduggery.

Nashville is a series you’d like to be able to recommend wholeheartedly to people, because its heart is usually in the right place, the cast is almost uniformly terrific (although Eric Close has never been able to do much with Teddy), and the music is even better–even Scarlett can be forgiven almost everything when she sings.  Although T. Bone Burnett has left his post as the show’s Executive Music Producer, the songs and performances are still first-rate.  It’s more or less public knowledge that there have been disputes behind the scenes of Nashville, between showrunners Callie Khouri (who created the series) and Dee Johnson, between Connie Britton and the producers, between the show and ABC, and perhaps that’s why there are second-rate characters like Layla (Aubrey Peeples), a dumber, lower-rent version of who Juliette started out to be, mixed in with nuanced storylines like the way ace guitarist Deacon has come to deal with his hand injury, and the way Juliette formed a meaningful friendship with Avery before anything else.  The series may always be that kind of schizophrenic.

Promos for the back half of Nashville‘s season indicate that in another “hey, please watch us!” move, Kelly Clarkson is going to make a more than cameo appearance when the show returns.  The series is fighting for its life, so you can’t begrudge it its desperate moves, but Nashville‘s moment may have passed.  Never quite a true quality series, never a go-for-it guilty pleasure, it’s a worthy hour that languishes between its dual identities.




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."