It’s hard to remember, but back at the start of the fall 2012 TV season, Nashville was the new series that was garnering the most buzz. Anchored by Connie Britton, who was riding high after finishing a stellar run on Friday Night Lights, led by Thelma And Louise writer Callie Khouri and her husband and music director T Bone Burnett, the show promised an All About Eve-type drama about a country star threatened by a young upstart. What it delivered instead was a straight-up soap set in the country-music industry. By the end of the first season, we had seen the end of Rayna’s marriage, Deacon falling off the wagon after Maddie’s parenting reveal, and Scarlett and Avery breaking up, with Gunnar proposing to Scarlett. Now that was a season finale.
This one just seems desperate to wrap up all the loose ends the show has so systematically unraveled over the past half-dozen or so episodes. When it came time to catch up on Nashville for this finale, I was surprised to discover that I was that far behind, which says something. Then when I caught up, I was much less sad about the series cancellation than I had been. If your 16-year-old daughter is hiding out at her older friend’s house, you call the police. You don’t wait for her to take you to court.
The Maddie emancipation plot may have been the worst twist this show has taken, but it wasn’t the only bad one this season, unfortunately. Not by a long shot. How about Will taking forever to stand up to some crazed lunatic who apparently has nothing better to do than to rail at him publicly 24 hours a day? Maybe I’m naive, but this plot may have had a better shot if there weren’t already successful gay country stars. That said, Will’s on-air takedown of his tormentor was both strong and kind, a masterful performance by Chris Carmack, who’s come a long way.
Charles Esten’s Deacon also seems to finally have learned his lesson, as he realizes that Rayna’s Huffington Post piece could hurt the sleazebag who tried to raped his wife more than his fists ever could. But no one on Nashville has progressed farther from the show’s earliest days than Juliette Barnes, who now would rather ditch the Oscars to be with her family. Avery’s tears as he watches her reveal on TV were lovely, because he realizes that the Juliette that he loved is still there. These were brief highlights, but at least there were some bright spots. For example, Gunnar and Scarlett’s reunion could have only happened on stage, and we got to hear Maisy Stella’s voice one more time. (One of my favorite moments in the clunker episodes was Juliette and Rayna discussing motherhood, as Rayna falls apart on Juliette for a change. It’s the little things.)
Lord knows this show has had its faulty plotlines before: The politicization of Nashville the show tried in season one, with Teddy as mayor. Gunnar’s custody battle with Micah and the Spy Kid. Scarlett and the magical homeless person. Avery when he was just about the worst character ever seen on television. Rayna and various hipster songwriters/producers who managed to cross her path. Juliette getting suckered by hangers-on like Dante. But performers like Britton, Esten, Hayden Panettiere and Jonathan Jackson always managed to rise above whatever material was thrown at them. The songs on their own, especially in the first few seasons, made the show a must-watch, and if we were lucky we’d get to see Juliette knock Layla right off the stage or Jeff Fordham twirl his non-existent mustache. Even in the worst of Nashville, there always managed to be some fun involved. Until this season.
Apparently the new showrunners on board for season four had never seen this show before, or had seen it and hated it, and set out to destroy everything that was good about it. Yes, it’s more difficult to drum up some drama for Rayna and Deacon now that they’re happily married, with no more romantic obstacles. So having Deacon responsible for Rayna losing Maddie probably seemed like the right call, as well as a chance to revisit the couple’s long-term patterns. But we’ve already been through so much with these characters, we kind of had to agree with Deacon when he bitched in the A.A. meeting, “What’s the point?”
Nashville was at its best when our villains weren’t really villainous, like Juliette, who thanks to Panettiere we couldn’t help but root for even when she was sleeping with Deacon. Jeff Fordham had his reasons for all his machinations, and was hilariously smarmy about them. So his hookup with Layla made sense, and even though she’s crazy, as Avery finally discovered this episode, at least she was entertainingly so.
We found out early on that August was a bitch, but is Gunnar really such a catch that she would go to all that trouble to break up her successful opening band? It makes no sense. Even worse is Cash, who went from an apparently normal person to a garbage human surprisingly quickly, so obsessed with Maddie and her career that I thought the show was going to reveal that she was actually in love with the teenager. There are a few hints that she’s latching on to Maddie so fiercely because she doesn’t have enough talent on her own: The way she bristled when Glen showed up to the showcase, or chasing after newly single Chris Martin. But the show didn’t lay nearly enough groundwork. So even this episode’s happy resolution just seems anti-climactic.
And in the worst kind of anti-climactic: TV Line is reporting that the final reunion scene with Avery and Juliette was actually filmed, but will likely never air. In an effort to drum up interest in someone else picking up the show for season five, Lionsgate decided instead to leave us all with Juliette’s plane lost in the air somewhere. That’s just a mean turn to fans of the show who will probably never see this resolution. Avery and Juliette deserved better. In fact, we all did.
The show’s now-unlikely season five would have featured Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz as showrunners, bringing their Thirtysomething sensibilities to the world of Nashville. It sounded like an odd pairing, but honestly, the showrunners of Fuller House could have done a better job on Nashville this season than the creative forces who dragged it right down into the mud. It was a once-great show that thrived when it embraced rather than tried to fight its soapiness. (Peggy and the pig blood. Never forget.) Even after this disastrous season four, I’ll still miss it. But much as it pains me to say this, it’s probably a good time for it to go.
Finale grade: B-
Season four grade: C-
Series grade overall: B
- Apologies for the lateness of this review: Some apocalyptic storms out here in Chicago got in the way of my DVR recording. Thanks for reading. Let’s go out with this song, when the show was actually a blast-and-a-half: