Hey, everybody! Welcome back to Nashville, where nothing ever happens! (Okay, you were all back here last week, but I had to leave you for a time. I am glad to have returned. Thanks to Carrie for looking after you folks.) This episode was probably the most satisfying for me in quite some time, yet it struggled to hold my attention in any scene that didn’t involve Rayna or Juliette, and I get paid to watch this stuff. Progress!
Since I spent a fair amount of time in my pilot review badmouthing (Golden Globe nominee) Hayden Panettiere’s work as Ms. Barnes, I should, perhaps, take a little bit of that back. I’m not going to say that the Juliette plotlines in any given week are those I enjoy the most, but I do usually have fun watching her scheme here way around the country music capital and, tonight, for one night only, San Diego. Giving her an addict mother didn’t really succeed in making her sympathetic, but damned if the breakup of her short-lived marriage to Fake Tim Tebow is doing a pretty good job of it. (Somebody called Fake Tim Tebow by his real name tonight, and I was briefly flabbergasted.) The show has more or less embraced that Juliette is basically what many people suspect Taylor Swift is like behind the scenes, when she drops the aw shucks demeanor and starts clubbing people with baseball bats, and there’s a tension in that notion that might just be enough to drive a storyline or two.
Juliette’s marriage ended swiftly, and she wants the divorce tidied up before the press gets word that she’s actually married. Poor, dumb Fake Tim Tebow believed their marriage was all about love, so he wants an annulment, because then he’ll be pure in the eyes of God and the courts again or somesuch. Naturally enough, Juliette eventually gives him what he wants, but not until he’s taken the opportunity to lay into her for not being good enough for him or something. (I think the show wants us to side with him, but I kind of thought it was a dick move, even if she completely misled him about how much she wanted to get married to him.)
What I liked about this was that it almost moved and behaved like a musical actually might. “Love Like Mine,” that song by Juliette that no one knows the words to, serves the function of the musical soliloquy, the song that drives the character examination and, eventually, change. At first, Juliette wants it stricken from the setlist during her San Diego show, since, after all, it was kind of her and Fake Tim Tebow’s song, what with the time he played and she sang on that jet (something the previously on reminded me of). She wants the song to burn in hell, because she’s realized that love is dead, and everything we think is reality is actually just our five senses filtering certain information to our brains and, therefore, what we only perceive to be reality. (Juliette’s a deep thinker, you guys.) But the episode does a nice job of having her call the audible in the middle of the show to perform her big hit, and in the course of it, you can see her shift. She’s going to give Fake Tim Tebow what he wants, because she doesn’t think she deserves what she wants, and she’s a country music superstar, with millions of adoring fans. Who cares about a quarterback when that’s the case?
The show is also making liberal use of “Rayna, voice of experience,” and it’s a role that suits Connie Britton well, as anyone who saw her dispense advice on Friday Night Lights will tell you. The concert tour with Juliette ends up being a bit of a mixed bag—though I like that it’s called the “Red Lips/White Lies” tour, as that would look nice on a T-shirt—since it doesn’t power the storyline to life. But I do like the way that she kind of hangs out at the edges of this episode, cackling at the way her new guitarist disrupts Juliette’s practice, missing Deacon, and insisting she probably won’t be there for her husband’s election night, until she very predictably is there to be by his side when he defeats Coleman and ascends to Nashville’s throne, in a sequence utterly devoid of suspense. (Is this election supposed to be in January? Are we supposed to get a sense of any of the things that matter to the populace of Nashville? Was there a racial component to it? What, exactly, propelled Teddy over the top? What were Coleman’s positive attributes? What was up with the pacing? Etc.)
The only interesting thing about this is Powers Boothe, Professional Glowerer, realizing that his son-in-law may be craftier than he gave him credit for. The more the show can put Powers Boothe up in high places above everybody and have him deliver dialogue between tightly-clenched teeth, the more I’ll be reminded of Deadwood, and the more some of my affection for that show might rub off on this one. Other than that, this is all the least interesting, most anticlimactic storyline in the whole show, and I’m glad it was shown the door fairly early on (though I hope Coleman doesn’t go away with it, since he could be a fascinating character). There’s no real indication of what Teddy’s fighting for—outside of that baseball stadium, I guess—and it feels almost as if somebody involved in the show got very tired of this plot very quickly, so they just set it aside and waited for it to be over.
The weirdest thing about this is that where I assumed Rayna and Juliette being on tour would give the show more shape—in that it could finally become a soap about a rivalry between two women if it wanted to or become a show more fully about the pitfalls of making a living in the recording industry if it wanted to—it mostly didn’t. All of the series regulars continue along in their own little plotlines, to the point where somebody somewhere thinks we’ll care about what Avery is up to at this very moment, or about Deacon ditching his new gig because his new boss nearly raped Scarlett. (This is, to be fair, a traumatic moment, but the episode treats it as almost another plot point.) Even Rayna and Juliette are mostly separate from each other when they’re stranded half a continent away; as enjoyable as I found both of their storylines, it sometimes felt as if they, too, were in separate cities (and at one point, I think they were).
At the TCA winter press tour, for which I missed last week’s review, ABC president Paul Lee defended his choice of Nashville as the sole new drama to pick up, even though Last Resort was actually more of an improvement in its timeslot over last year than Nashville was. (Though a bomb, Last Resort saw an uptick of over 30 percent in the Nielsen ratings from whatever ABC was airing there last year; Nashville is actually down from where Revenge was in perhaps the most valuable drama real estate on the ABC schedule.) At one point, Lee defended the show by saying that he saw it as a soap, with lots of great, juicy character drama, and I think that’s where this show’s utter rudderlessness is coming from. I highly doubt anybody involved in the series thought they were going to make a soap. It sure seems like they wanted to make a drama about making it in the country music business, a drama that then got contorted by marketing and network notes into something else.
Then again, ABC’s not wrong. When Callie Khouri and her own writers are left to their own devices, this show tends to become people tapping their feet, playing guitars, and staring out over the countryside with an old hound dog by their side, before they start jawing about what it was like when you could wander into Ma Kettle’s and get yerself some extra-fresh lemonade! There’s a great show inside of Nashville, a great show about the clash between old South and new and about what it means to try to give people something to listen to in an age when the music industry is splintered beyond all recognition. But if it ever wants to get to that point, then everybody involved will have to make it entertaining first. If Lee would rather it get entertaining by being a soap, by all means. But something should start to come together. Tonight, it almost did, and maybe that’s progress.
- I was really disappointed that the title of “Love Like Mine” wasn’t “Labrador, On The Floor,” because I still hear that every time anybody sings this song.
- After not seeing nearly enough of them for several weeks, this episode features several charming moments with Rayna and Teddy’s daughters, though even they seem to feel as if their dad has bitten off more than he can chew.
- Gunnar has a brother. His brother was in jail. The two of them meet up again and… *snoring sounds*
- Actually, to go along with the above, when Teddy hears he’s won, his face briefly seems terrified, as if he doesn’t quite know what he’s done.
- This show in a nutshell: Peggy comes up to Teddy’s hotel room to congratulate him on his win. After her suicide attempt, everybody’s treating her a little more fragilely. The two of them talk quietly, then she puts a hand on his face, and then, nothing happens. She goes away. I distrust high concept bullshit as much as anybody, Nashville, but drama isn’t made up of conflict avoidance for several very good reasons!