Nashville divas Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) & Rayna James (Connie Britton)
Who doesn’t love a good soap? And there are plenty of them on the air now like the uber-popular Downton Abbey, ABC’s revitalized Revenge and even shows like Homeland have serialized elements that hook us.
And then there’s Nashville, a soap set in the exciting and already over the top world of country music. There are the successful country divas like stoic veteran Rayna James (Connie Britton) and bratty superstar Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the up-and-comers like songwriter Gunnar (Sam Palladio), singer Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and guitarist Avery (Jonathan Jackson, whose soap pedigree goes back to General Hospital) and late last season the series added Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), a closeted country heartthrob.
Will doesn’t believe a gay man can also be a country music superstar, and he might just be right on that score. Despite what it’s obviously doing to his mental health, he refuses to come out of the closet. As of now, he’s sleeping with young singer Layla (Aubrey Peeples) and ignoring BFF Gunnar’s pleas to accept who he is
So, with all this in the mix, is Nashville delivering on all the elements that should make it a must-see soap? We gathered some top TV critics to weigh in on the various storylines and find out what’s working and what isn’t in the series. In this roundtable is Robyn Ross (Staff Editor, TVGuide.com), Dan Forcella (Nashville recapper, TVFanatic.com), Diane Gordon (Editor, The Surf Report) and TheBacklot’s own, Jim Halterman.
Rayna and Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) seem to have a good thing going. Do you want to see her settle down with him, or is Deacon (Charles Esten) always and forever the man for her?
Robyn Ross: I actually like this storyline, even as a big Rayna-Deacon shipper. If Rayna and Deacon are the ultimate end game, you need them to go off on their own and have other relationships so that they can come together stronger.
Dan Forcella: I’m less about Rayna and Deacon ending up together, and much more about Rayna and Luke not being together. Luke rubs me the wrong way, and I think he will end up being bad for the Queen of Country Music in the end.
Diane Gordon: I like that their romance is one between two equals – they’re both powerhouses of country music. But I’m betting Luke has a dark side we haven’t seen yet. I’m thinking it’ll have to do with him wanting to control Rayna’s career, which will send Rayna back toward Deacon.
Jim Halterman: I like them together, but it seems a little too good right now so the other shoe will drop sooner or later. Let’s hope it’s a smart creative choice and not something contrived like (gasp!) he has another wife or something like that. I like Will Chase on the show so even if their relationship tanks, I wouldn’t mind him sticking around.
Overall, what are your feelings about Juliette? Do we root for her or is she too frustrating as a character and the choices she makes?
Robyn Ross: Juliette will always be my favorite character to watch. Yes, she makes dumb decisions, but somehow her vulnerability always shines through which keeps me rooting for her. And she’s got the sass that every other female character on the show is lacking.
Dan Forcella: Oh, I absolutely root for her. She’s one of the only interesting female characters on the show. She makes frustrating decisions, but that’s one of the things that makes her so likable as a character. Every time she does something that makes no sense, I’m engaged in her story. I want her to succeed, to get over her poor decision making.
Diane Gordon: I root for her & she’s one of the reasons I watch the show. Juliette has become a far more dimensional character and I like that her story has twisted and turned. I’m thinking she’ll join Rayna’s label and then she’ll write & sing more than pop anthems and fulfill her potential as a true artist. All that said, it’s also key to keep in mind that no one can rock snakeskin leather pants like Hayden Panettiere.
Jim Halterman: I’m just ready for the next step for her character. Too many scenes of her being beaten down and sitting on the couch all alone feeling sorry for herself. We get it, she pushes people away and has nobody when the world kicks her ass. I’d be okay if she found some happy with Avery and new, non-romantic complications came up.
How long can Will (Chris Carmack) focus on career and keep his sexuality closeted?
Poor Gay Will. How are you feeling about his story and friendship with Gunnar? Compelling? Or is the show repeating the same beats over and over?
Robyn Ross: I like how his arc started, but there was a point when he should’ve either come out or at least opened up to Brent rather than going back to the beginning again.
Dan Forcella: It does seem to be repetitive, which is never a good thing. He’s struggling with his lifestyle given his choice of profession. We get that. Find something else to make him an interesting character. It’s too one note right now.
Diane Gordon: The Will story has become repetitive and doesn’t seem to be driving toward anything because we know they won’t have him commit suicide because this is a broadcast network drama, not cable. I hate to see the guy just twist in the wind.
Jim Halterman: Love the str8 guy/closeted guy relationship but, like everyone here has said, we’re getting too much repetition at this point. Time to get to the next step. Like, NOW!
On the other hand, what do you think of Chris Carmack’s performance? Glad they made him a series regular or better for a short term arc?
Robyn Ross: I think he was a good addition to the show and has surprised me with his performance.
Dan Forcella: I am glad he was made a series regular because I enjoy watching Carmack perform. If the writers could do him some favors by improving his storyline in the near future, that would confirm the notion that his promotion was a good idea.
Diane Gordon: I think Chris Carmack is doing the best with what’s being given to him. It definitely would’ve worked better as a short term arc so there could be some sort of resolution. Playing a closeted character seems to be very limiting dramatically — which I’m assuming is a shortcoming on the writers’ part. I’m not gay, so I can’t talk about being closeted with any knowledge.
Jim Halterman: Carmack’s singing performances have impressed me almost as much as his nicely fitting blue jeans! He’s definitely an asset to the show, but I hope the coming out storyline happens soon as we can get some non-sexuality stories with him. Remember, folks, making someone gay doesn’t mean that’s the only story you have to tell.
Sure, Will tried to kiss Gunnar (Sam Palladio) once, but a great friendship came out of it.
Scarlett has been spiraling a bit as she’s pulled further into the business. We smell a pill addiction storyline coming on! Good thing story-wise… or too damn predictable?
Robyn Ross: Enough with the Saved By The Bell’s Jessie Spano! Another TV character resorting to pills because of “too much pressure?” But hey, maybe it’ll liven Scarlett up a little.
Dan Forcella: Too damn predictable, overdone, and lame. Oh you’re stressed so you need to take pills to get over it? You’ll just do it for a bit, and you won’t get addicted? Well I’ve got some news for you Scarlett. Saved By The Bell’s Zack Morris isn’t going to be there to settle you down when you get so excited, so excited…so scared.
Diane Gordon: There’s definitely a pill addiction story coming – talk about telegraphing done badly! The minute Liam (Michiel Huisman) handed Scarlett a bottle, it was totally obvious! It’s good story-wise because it means there’s a possibility she’ll be out of the main storyline for awhile if she uses too much and has to stop working for awhile. Scarlett is the show’s weakest link so anything that sidelines her is a positive in my book.
Jim Halterman: It’s very predictable, but I love a good soapy addiction story. But does Clare Bowen have the acting chops to really make it fun to watch? (I know, people, addiction isn’t fun – unless it’s on a prime time soap!) I know her pouty, wimpy persona needs a kick in the butt, so a bottle of pills could be the trick to show us a new (albeit glassy-eyed) Scarlett!
Should we care about the storyline with Rayna’s ex, Teddy (Eric Close)? Or is he always on the outside of the rest of the action on the show?
Robyn Ross: Who’s Teddy? Just kidding. But really, now that they got rid of Peggy, the stuff with Teddy should just be done with and he should become a peripheral character as it relates to Rayna’s family dynamic.
Dan Forcella: I’m twisting words here, but yes, we should care about Teddy’s storyline. We should care about every storyline. The issue is that we don’t. I know I couldn’t care less about what has been going on with Teddy throughout the first season and a half. The writers have even tried to pump up his plots with cheating, divorce, murder, etc. It’s still not working.
Diane Gordon: No, we shouldn’t care. His storyline is dead weight. Teddy is a peripheral character at best, which is sad because Eric Close deserves better.
Jim Halterman: Really don’t care, though I do like Eric Close as an actor. But his character and story just seems like something that belongs in the past.
Juliette has had her heart broken more than once. Can she only be happy onstage?
Lots of guest stars on the show (Brad Paisley, Kelly Clarkson). How do you think the show does in utilizing them?
Robyn Ross: I haven’t given this thought at all. It doesn’t seem so “stunt casting-y” like some other shows so it’s fine.
Dan Forcella: I think it’s been inconsistent. The guest stars have worked best when the country artists come on and just perform like Zac Brown did the other week. Fans still get excited to see their favorite country music stars, but they don’t have to witness the horrendous acting.
Diane Gordon: The singers who guest add authenticity to the show’s music world and in general, they make logical guest star choices. The best guest star this season: they’ve done a terrific job incorporating Will Chase as Luke Wheeler into the show although that may be my Smash hangover talking. Oh! They’ve also used Oliver Hudson well as Jeff Fordham, the nasty record label head everyone loves to hate. I like Michiel Huisman as Liam, but they haven’t utilized him very well.
Jim Halterman: I like it because, as my colleagues said above, it rarely feels like stunt casting and also adds authenticity to the world. And when you get someone like Will Chase in playing a superstar, it definitely works because he can actually act AND sing pretty damn well.
Who on the show would you like to see more of? Less of?
Robyn Ross: Less of Teddy (see above). This time last year I would’ve said Avery, but I think Juliette completely saved his character arc and now I don’t mind him. More of Rayna’s girls! And more of Deacon and Maddie.
Dan Forcella: More Deacon. Less Tandy.
Diane Gordon: More Juliette, Deacon, Luke & Rayna, Gunnar, Liam. Less Scarlett, Will, Teddy and the lawyer lady Deacon is dating — talk about zero chemistry…
Jim Halterman: More Rayna, Juliette, Deacon, Gunnar, Will. Less Scarlett, Teddy and Layla. I also think it would be better if Juliette’s manager (I can’t even remember his name, which is maybe the point) needs replacing with someone who can add more to the mix, too. He’s just a yes man and his character has never been developed. Would be a good thing for her character to try on different managers and get some good guest stars in there.
Who of the Nashville cast do you want to see more of? Less of?
Overall, what is the show getting right?
Robyn Ross: As a non-country fan, I really love the music. I also like the dynamic developing between Rayna and Juliette because having them constantly feuding was getting old.
Dan Forcella: The show continues to succeed with its musical performances. They feel real, and they’re always entertaining.
Diane Gordon: The backstabbiness of the music business, the fashion, some of the romantic entanglements and making great use of Connie Britton’s overall appeal and wonderfulness.
Jim Halterman: I’ve always felt like Nashville is almost there. It has most of the right ingredients, but so far it hasn’t been mixed right. I do think the cast could be trimmed a bit to give the show a little more focus and streamline the storytelling.
On the other side, what is the show still missing the mark on?
Robyn Ross: I don’t know anyone who likes Scarlett so I’d love to see them tone down the amount of storylines she gets.
Dan Forcella: So many of the storylines feel regurgitated from a number of other shows we’ve seen before. Very early on Nashville seemed new and fresh. It lost that somewhere along the way.
Diane Gordon: They really need to have one of the female leads in a situation where their happiness doesn’t depend on a romantic relationship with a man. I had hoped they were going to let Juliette have some victories on her own but now they have her hooking up with/getting involved with Avery (Jonathan Jackson).
Jim Halterman: It’s a soap, but that doesn’t mean always falling back on the easy soap conventions. I’d love the show to truly surprise us, which it rarely does. Even the first season finale car crash felt flat since you knew they wouldn’t kill of Rayna or Deacon. That said, I’m still watching and not ready to give up on it yet.
Prognosis for a Season 3? Or do you think 2 seasons has been enough?
Robyn Ross: Definitely worth a third season and if the storylines could stay focused without so many outside characters I think people would get more invested in it.
Dan Forcella: I wouldn’t mind having more Nashville in my life next year. I’m not yearning for it, but I’m not going to turn it away.
Diane Gordon: There’s potential for a third season if they reduce the number of series regulars, maybe using some bucks for guest stars to add more glitz, and focus on Rayna and Juliette – two terrific, powerful, talented women.
Jim Halterman: I think a Season 3 would be a good thing. Like Revenge has found its groove in its third season, I think Nashville can find the right mix between soapiness and a good character drama in the very near future.
Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC.