‘Nashville’ Review: The Best and Worst of Season 1

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Photo: ABC

ABC’s soapy, primetime drama Nashville became one of the hottest and most popular shows of this TV season, bringing country songs to life as the characters lived the drama every single week. Now that the season’s come to an end, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst from Season 1.

I’m a sucker for a good country song, so naturally Nashville because my favorite new show of the fall. The show started out strong in all areas: critically applauded, great ratings, and as much drama as a daytime soap opera. However, mid-season it faltered a bit and fumbled through certain storylines that felt as if they were dragging on and on. The stumbling is natural for a freshman show that has to find – and more importantly – maintain a certain footing. Through the second half of the season, Nashville was able to do just that. The show is at its best when focused on characterization – the flaws, the vices, and the secrets of their musical stars. The exploration of lost and unrequited love through Deacon and Rayna, Juliette’s struggle to become more than the background she came from, and the desperation to find a musical career in a city of people trying to do the same thing all felt so genuine and real. You may not have always liked the choices the characters made and you may even hate them, but the writers provided so much depth and characterization that you understood them despite their flaws and shortcomings. And that’s what makes this show so damn good.

The freshman season of Nashville gets an A- from me. Should it improve on where it fails and maintain where it shines, next season should deliver A+ material.

The BEST:

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

1. The Soundtrack

If you’re a country music fan – and there’s a 99.9% chance you are if you watch this show – each week provided new songs to become the soundtrack to your life. The best country songs reflect real life situations and emotions of heartbreak and grief, the stories of people struggling to make it through this crazy life, and we were given new songs each week. I also really love that the show utilizes the Nashville music scene, getting songs from musicians in the city, who are struggling to make it and get their big break as well.

Notable songs:
Undermine – Juliette’s attempt to write something other than the country-pop she was being force fed.
If I Didn’t Know Better – the duet that made us all melt in Scarlett and Gunnar’s palms.
Love Like Mine – Just because this became my new breakup anthem. We’ve all lived this song.
When The Right One Comes Along – the second duet that made us melt in Scarlett and Gunnar’s palms.
Back Home – From Deacon’s solo performance in the pilot. I could listen to this man sing the phone book.
Nothing In This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again – Juliette’s song for the montage in the finale that broke us all to pieces.

2. The Leading Ladies & Their Leading Man

Connie Britton has had me ever since Friday Night Lights. There’s a hint of Tami Taylor in Rayna James, specifically when it comes to her serious conversations with her children or the scene at the funeral in the finale. Her talent is genuine and authentic, and even when you’re frustrated with Rayna going back and forth between Teddy (or was I the only one?), you still root about her. She’s someone whose entire life has been defined by specific choices she made and it’s clear she stays up at night pondering what would have happened had she chose another path.

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

Hayden Panettiere is my definite choice for shining star of this show. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I was never a fan of her until Nashville. In my opinion, this is the role of Panettiere’s lifetime. She owns Juliette. She takes every frustrating thing about her and plays it in such an honest, understated way that you still manage to feel sorry for her instead of hating her. The range she brings to this character is phenomenal, dumbfounding, really. In the finale alone, she went through so many emotions – grief, understanding, realization, acceptance – you could practically trace the stages of grief through her scenes. When she stood in the dressing room and said she was happy her mother died, only to take it back when she realized what exactly it meant – one of the best scenes this entire season. If she doesn’t earn an Emmy nomination for this show, I’m writing strongly worded letters to so many people.

And then you combine the dynamics of Connie and Hayden and you have a battle of two of the strongest women in Nashville, who slowly come to an understanding of one another through season. Watching the two battle and see a complicated friendship (that neither would ever acknowledge) brew beneath their animosity is one of the season’s highlights.
Lastly, Charles Esten as Deacon Sharpe is my second pick for outstanding performer of the season. Esten portrays Deacon’s romantic struggles in such a rugged, raw way that he’s a joy to watch every week. Whether he’s fighting his feelings for Rayna or alcoholism, he always delivers. Like Panettiere, his character went through a range of emotions in the finale as he learned Rayna’s oldest daughter is biologically his, but she lied to him because of his bout with alcoholism. Watching Deacon fall to pieces and literally tear his house apart was heartbreaking. He’s a man with so many demons and Esten plays him flawlessly, turning him into someone we root for instead of someone we hate – and a character like this often straddles that very fine line.

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

4. The History

The backstory for Rayna and Deacon is one the driving forces of the show. They’re the stuff country music is all about – young lovers who lost one another due to real life problems, like alcoholism, and moved on from one another yet continue to circle around, unable to give up forever. They started out apart, came together by the end of the season, only to be ripped apart in the finale by secrets finally coming out. Who doesn’t want to see people who are so obviously supposed to be together make it?

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

5. Introduction of a Gay Character

Late in the season, we met Will, a smooth-talking, womanizing up-and-comer with one of the most beautiful voices. Who knew Chris Carmack was hiding that back during his days on Fox’s The O.C.? Will puts himself out there in a lot of ways that Scarlett and Gunnar don’t, making him a great foil for their characters. His friendship balances them out and his sexuality came as a surprise when he went in for a kiss on Gunnar. In an industry that is so predominately manly, I like that the show is taking his route. As sad as it is, his sexuality would hold back his chance at making it, so it’ll be interesting to see his struggle to make it while having this inner turmoil. Not to mention that Gunnar is so deeply disturbed by the kiss that there’s the chance it could lead to something more. Could Gunnar and Will end up forming a relationship in the future? Talk about some serious drama given that Will has become one of Scarlett’s closest friends and she may or may not be engaged to Gunnar in the season premiere.

The Worst

1. Avery Barkley

This character never quite found his footing. He started out as Scarlett’s boyfriend, jealous when she made a breakthrough in the business and he didn’t. He slept his way into a record deal only to throw it away because he didn’t like the control they wanted to have on his music. And then he crawled back to Nashville to start over again and ended up with a place in Juliette’s band. This may be the one character who hasn’t been given enough characterization because he just comes off so unlikable. I can’t figure out why Scarlett or Juliette would give him the time of day. Maybe it’s the babyface combined with his whispery voice and an acoustic guitar. If Avery is sticking around, he needs something more – a makeover, more depth, a true identity. And quite honestly, a break in romance because he didn’t work with Scarlett and he doesn’t fit Juliette. Nothing about him is believable, making him by biggest issue going into season two.

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

2. Teddy’s Political Endeavors

The political story is so trying. While it ties into Rayna’s past through her father, it just doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the show. It’s necessary because it gives Teddy a story, but it’s just so damn boring. I don’t care about Teddy’s plight as a mayor or his high school girlfriend or the money they embezzled and paid back twenty years ago. Thankfully, his story doesn’t eat up too much of the show, but it’s ten or fifteen minutes an episode feels like a lifetime. Let’s correct this one please, writers.

3. Scarlett and Gunnar’s Romance

Photo Credit: ABC

Photo Credit: ABC

Or maybe just Scarlett in general. The girl may have the voice of an angel, but she’s basically a mess. She chooses men who are so painfully not worthy of her, broken men who need some kind of fixing, unaware that she cannot work magic and change them. Her relationships with Avery and Gunnar are about her propping them up, supporting them, and holding them together when their lives are a mess. The only time I root for her is when she’s singing. Otherwise, she’s this failed moral compass to a bunch of broken men that I could care less about. The whole rebel country star angle with Gunnar after his brother’s death was downright painful to sit through. Thank God it’s over. Now I just have to hope Scarlett told him no when he proposed. She’s definitely someone who needs to pull a Kelly Taylor and choose herself.

4. The Season Finale

The season finale wasn’t terrible. It was just so predictable, weighted with every possible cliffhanger from paternity outings to proposals to car accidents to pregnancies. It was like watching a daytime soap’s attempt at garnering viewers during sweeps. Are we supposed to believe Teddy isn’t smart enough to wear a glove when sleeping with Peggy? Are we supposed to even care about Peggy? Are we supposed to believe Deacon and Rayna won’t walk away from the car accident? Are we supposed to root for Scarlett and Gunnar? It was so cliché. The only thing that saved it for me was Panettiere’s and Esten’s performances as she fell apart from her mother’s death and he reeled back into alcoholism.

What were your best and worst moments in season 1? Share your favorite and least favorite thoughts below.

Nashville will return for season two this fall on ABC.

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