At the end of Nashville’s season finale, Juliette Barnes sat on a chair in The Bluebird Cafe and sang her lungs out in promising us that nothing in this world will ever break her heart again. It was a dazzling vocal display by Hayden Panettiere to cap off the show’s inaugural season that featured better singing talent than I expected it would, Connie Britton notwithstanding.
Unfortunately there’s more to the show than their music.
While Juliette was belting her little country heart out the writers were dolling out one television cliche after another. They put two characters in a car wreck. They made for the country cowboy star who is hiding his sexuality to get spotted with a girl by his boyfriend. They made a boyfriend pop the question way sooner than we all know he should. This lazy, ham-fisted storytelling came after they predictably threw Deacon off the wagon and conveniently gave Maddie a bout of teenage curiosity that led to her discovering Deacon, not Teddy, is her biological father.
All of this confirms something about Nashville that I spent the first season trying to prove to myself wasn’t true: It might just be a show designed to sell music. I clung to every perceived kernel of character development and storytelling to find anything that might convince me otherwise, all to no avail. We will get no creativity here.
A creative show wouldn’t send Deacon on an immediate bender culminated by his drunken attack on Teddy outside city hall. Teddy repaying Rayna’s commitment that he would not loose his daughter was the only moment in this whole storyline that felt like a decision genuinely made by a character instead of forced by a writer. Maddie’s spontaneous curiosity that sent her digging in her mom’s closet and running to tell Deacon felt driven more by having to get it done in two episodes than by what her character would actually do.
This kind of storytelling is acceptable in the five-day-a-week format of a daytime soap opera. It is offensive in a broadcast network’s Wednesday night lineup. Viewers deserve so much better.
It was obvious from episode one that Gunnar had feelings for Scarlette and that she would eventually leave Avery for him. Unlike Teddy, Deacon and Rayna, whose storyline was entirely predictable and therefore boring, this love triangle could work because these are three characters who usually stay true to themselves. When they make bad decisions the writers let them realize it and deserve credit for doing so. I would be perfectly fine watching the three of them explore their feelings over the course of season two. Instead the writers made Gunnar propose. Forcing them to act on their feelings this fast ruins everything and robs us of a story that could have been very enjoyable.
Want more? There’s more. Instead of letting the Peggy Kenter character fade away, Nashville doubled down and did what any immature show would do: It made her pregnant. Really? I mean, really? This character’s only purpose was to expedite the demise of Teddy and Rayna’s marriage. Why is a baby necessary here? Rayna finally succumbing to her feelings for Deacon is enough to permanently break her relationship with Teddy. The only reason to make Peggy pregnant is to complicate Teddy and Rayna getting back together, which has no business happening. If not for every show in history having already gone there it would be intriguing. Again, okay for daytime, unqualified for primetime.
The only enjoyable moments from the finale came from Juliette Barnes. Her character has been enjoyable to watch all season for the way she always comes to the right decision, however begrudgingly she might get there. At least the show lets one character have a brain. I might honestly be more interested in this show if Rayna dies in the crash and Juliette becomes the leading female character.
My theme in watching season finales this year has been trying to discern where shows might be going in their next season. With Nashville I’m afraid what it previewed during Juliette’s Bluebird performance is going to be the start of year two. Even worse, the show’s writers could actually think they’re doing a good job and keep doing exactly what they’re doing.
That leads me into thinking about whether or not I’ll tune in next fall. With all its stars coming back for season two there is plenty of reason to tune in for more Avery Barkley, Scarlett O’Connor and Gunnar Scott. I suppose you also have to stick around to see what happened in the crash, but has Nashville given us anything that would make us believe anything interesting will come of it?