May 15, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Nashville”


It took some down-to-the-wire negotiations between ABC and production studio Lionsgate, but NASHVILLE made its way to a Season 3 renewal this week.  (And barring further ratings collapse, that makes a Season 4 more likely than not, since ABC would share in the increased revenues from syndication that would follow a 4-season run.)  It was a validation of all the work that had clearly been put in by series creator Callie Khouri, co-showrunner Dee Johnson, and the rest of the writing/producing staff to turn the series into less of a work in progress than it had been in its first season, work that left the show appreciably better, if still imperfect.

A variety of weaker characters exited the storyline, in quite a few cases –Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), Peggy Kenter (Kimberly Williams-Paisley)–very permanently.  The role of Teddy Conrad (Eric Close) was scaled back.  The show mostly kept its focus on its trio of female country-singing protagonists, Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), and Scarlett O’Connor (Claire Bowen), and the people in their immediate orbit.

Panettiere continued to reward all of the effort that went her way, and one could make the argument that in Season 2, Juliette became Nashville‘s leading lady.  Not only can Panettiere sing up a storm, but she convincingly took Juliette from the brat character she’d been through most of Season 1 to a troubled but ultimately rather heroic figure.  One piece of the Season 2 rethinking was the rehabilitation of Jonathan Jackson’s Avery, and as the two of them moved from friendship to romance, they became the show’s most absorbing couple.  Meanwhile, Nashville put a lot of its chips into making something of Scarlett over the course of the season, and although that character will always be divisive with her largely passive-aggressive dormouse affect, Bowen had plenty to do all season, including some regrettable romances, a prescription pill addiction and an on-stage nervous breakdown, and at the very least, Bowen and the character were far less forgettable than they’d seemed a season earlier.

Oddly, the character who almost seemed to fade into the background at times was Rayna Jaymes.  It wasn’t that Britton didn’t get as much or more airtime as anyone else, but that Rayna has become such a flawless earth mother, never acting selfishly or stupidly in the way Juliette and Scarlett frequently do, and always with the greater good in mind, that she simply wasn’t very interesting.  Britton is a producer of Nashville, and it’s known that she’s played a significant part in shaping her character from the fading superstar who was depicted in the pilot.  One has to wonder if she’s hurt herself in some sense by draining Rayna of the weaknesses that the other characters have.

One of the problems with the Rayna storyline is that much of it has been tied to the character’s romance with country superstar Luke Wheeler (Will Chase), who’s become an increasingly important character–a regular this season in all but contractual status–without ever being much more than “Rayna’s boyfriend.”  (It always felt like Luke was an episode away from going away on a long overseas tour and never being seen again.)  In the season finale, written and directed by Khouri, the big cliffhanger was the choice Rayna has to make between competing marriage proposals from Luke and Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), the recovering alcoholic great love of her life, and father of her daughter Maddie (Lennon Stella).  However the show resolves that next season, there was no contest in terms of which man adds infinitely more texture and emotional relevance to the series.  (It was a particularly notable season for Esten, who got to play everything from an epic fall off the wagon to the beginnings of fatherhood with Maddie, and never hit a wrong note.)  The result was that Rayna’s cliffhanger felt less meaningful than whether Avery would stay with Juliette after discovering she’d cheated on him with series villain Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson), the evil head of the only meaningful record label on the show, or whether Scarlett would decide to move back to Mississippi (spoiler alert: don’t bet on it) or get back together with Gunnar (Sam Palladio), with whom she was last seen singing a dreamy duet.

Nashville‘s portrayal of the country music business continues to be one of its strengths.  The supporting character with the biggest boost this season was closeted gay singer Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), who indulged in a sham marriage with Layla (Aubrey Peeples), but who seemed to have accidentally outed himself to a reality show camera in the season finale.  The various machinations by which Jeff Fordham and Rayna, now a label owner herself, manipulated radio stations, retailers and the media to get an advantage in sales was nicely detailed.

Nashville still feels like a series that would have been much happier on a cable network than on mainstream ABC, and reportedly ABC’s agreement to bring the show back required some meaningful budget cuts, which might impact the quality of Season 3, especially in terms of original songs and musical performances.  Nevertheless, it’s a show that works to balance its trashy soap status with something more meaningful, and with hits terrific music and excellent performances, it’ll be good to see it return for at least one more tour.

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."