‘Nashville’ triumphs with fully realized character relationships
Strong performances by female leads anchor show
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 13:03
When “Nashville” returns March 27 after a month−long hiatus, it will be high−time for this freshman series to tie together its slowly converging storylines for the season’s last batch of episodes.
The show, created by Academy Award−winning writer Callie Khouri (“Thelma and Louise” (1991)), has spent its first season rotating between three major plots that have managed to come together only in the season’s second half. Rayna James (Connie Britton) is a country music legend whose career has slowed as she enters middle age. She’s well−respected, but it appears that Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a promiscuous Taylor Swift−type, is the one with chart−topping hits these days. The first half of the season is essentially spent proving that these two need each other in order to survive. Juliette’s career threatens to sink due to a PR crisis, so she could benefit from Rayna’s squeaky−clean reputation. Meanwhile, Rayna needs Juliette’s popularity and youth to sell her music. It may be slightly repetitive, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the show isn’t worth watching. The mutual distaste these two women have for each other is palpable and makes for a dynamic television relationship. It’s also well acted; both Britton and Panettiere received Golden Globe nominations for their roles.
The second half of the season cuts to the chase: Rayna and Juliette are co−headlining a nationwide tour, allowing the sparks to fly even more than they did in earlier episodes. It does nothing, however, to tie in the third plotline: Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio), the struggling−but−talented songwriting duo with a fair bit of romantic tension of their own. This arc does not have the maturity and the urgency of the Juliette−Rayna stories, and its absence from the core of the show has done it no favors. Their latest plotline involved an unappealing visit from Gunnar’s ex−convict brother, which only further alienated the two from the central drama of the show (though it did produce a long awaited Scarlett−Gunnar hookup, pleasing many fans of the pair, to be sure). The writers, fortunately, seem to know that this problem exists and are trying to remedy it: Rayna recently signed the duo to her label, seemingly setting up an opportunity to integrate Scarlett and Gunnar more authentically into the fabric of the show.
Despite the less−than−exceptional Scarlett−Gunnar storylines, “Nashville” truly is a well−fashioned show. Connie Britton, who played beloved Tami Taylor on “Friday Night Lights” (2006−2011), gives solid performances every week. She sometimes veers close to Tami Taylor territory, but the writers do an excellent job of allowing her character to grapple with very different issues. The marital issues she and her husband tried to suppress in the first half of the season reach a boiling point in a moment of perfect drama and tension in a hotel while Britton is on tour. She’s invited Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten), her scruffy former boyfriend and guitar player, to her room — finally, it seems, giving into the tension this pair has perfected. Unlike with Scarlett and Gunnar, these two have a long and sad past — and probably a bumpy future, what with a certain paternity question surrounding one of Rayna’s daughters. But Britton and Esten manage to communicate the sadness, the history and the ever−present longing with each glance and conversation. As Deacon heads up to Rayna’s room, he spots Teddy Conrad (Eric Close), Rayna’s politician husband, enter ahead of him. This scene embodies both the drama and tension the show so tactfully plays out — and gives a nod to the history these three characters share.
Panettiere, meanwhile, is convincing as country poptart Juliette Barnes. She’s spoiled and self−centered, but the producers have done well not to make her a one−note character. Panettiere has successfully pulled back several layers of Juliette’s character: a tumultuous and challenging relationship with her mother, unparalleled ambition, a complicated and nurturing relationship with Deacon and an often hidden talent. It would have been easy to make Juliette the villainous, shallow young star, used her simply to irritate Rayna, but the writers have wisely gone in a direction that allows for a more complete look at Juliette, Rayna and their relationship.
It should be no surprise that this show was created by Khouri, whose “Thelma and Louise” was hailed as a revolutionary depiction of female relationships. The relationships in “Nashville” are less provocative, perhaps, but it is refreshing to see a variety of women commanding a network television show while the male characters occupy secondary roles. To her credit, Khouri has created a dynamic and well−orchestrated cast of female characters — and more people should be tuning into “Nashville” to watch these relationships unfold.