Photo: Mark Levine/CMT

When thirtysomething was on the air in the late ’80s, it had many fans, won a bunch of Emmys, and was noted for its exemplary scripts by creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick and above-par performances by its cast. And yet… there was a substantial contingent that out-and-out hated the show, which showcased seven joined-at-the-hip adults who appeared to spend a lot of time whining about their lives. Even late-night comics loved to make fun of the show, with Jay Leno offering frequent jabs, like:

The husband is saying, “What about my needs?” and the wife is saying, “What about my needs?” and I’m sitting there thinking, “Hey, what about my needs? I’m looking for a little entertainment here!’’

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Nashville not only jumped from ABC to the Country Music Television channel for its fifth season, it also gained thirtysomething vets Herskovitz and Zwick as showrunners. In tonight’s two-hour premiere, which they wrote, the effect is palpable. Almost everyone on the show is miserable and/or whining, talking a lot about their feelings. Rayna and Deacon even have an argument/non-argument about whether or not he’s thinking about what she wants him to be thinking about. It’s thirtysomething set in the world of Nashville country music. It’s Nashvillesomething.

This particular somber setting doesn’t really take hold until the second hour of this premiere. In hour one, we get to see that Juliette, improbably, is the sole survivor of that plane crash. She’s as sulky and petulant as ever, which is maybe a little understandable because she’s in a wheelchair, and obsessed with an angel-like figure who found her after the crash.

Speaking of sulky and petulant: Maddie James, everybody. You would think that after an entire season of being a brat to her family, to the point of emancipating from them, she might be a little contrite after moving back in. But no, she is consistently horrible to everyone, especially to Daphne. And although Maddie wants nothing more than to be a professional musician, she is apparently unfamiliar with the concept of collaboration. Maybe Maddie is in line with what an actual teenager is like, but like Leno alluded, she’s no one I want to hang out with for an hour every Thursday.

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Worst of all, the rock of our show is faltering: Rayna starts having panic attacks, apparently brought on by Juliette’s crash. And possibly the break from Maddie and her ex-husband’s incarceration and Juliette’s paralysis: This first hour of the new Nashville reminds us that the show has never hesitated to embrace its soapy self. In the end, both Rayna and Juliette remember that the base of all good things is the music they love so much: Rayna from a blind man’s version of “The Wayfaring Stranger,” Juliette from a choir that leads her to the woman who saved her. It’s a nice beat for a show that’s so intrinsically tied to the music.

Unfortunately, even this minor progress completely unravels in hour two. Scarlett and Gunnar transcend from being the solid erstwhile aunt and uncle hanging out with Daphne and Maddie, to a loathsome couple that barely even seems like they belong together. I guess Scarlett’s out-of-nowhere jealousy could be a nod back to her previous depression problems, but why would she actually be mad about a song Gunnar wrote about another girl when they weren’t even together? Juliette is still trying to push Avery away because that’s what she does, while Rayna obliviously tacks on a rich admirer who’s bound to be unhinged.

The stalker and the paralysis storylines fall in line with our usual Nashville soapiness, but God, those relationship talks were deadly. how many times did Deacon and Rayna talk around this album that is now apparently about to happen? One advantage that the thirtysomething style had was a refreshing casualness, with overlapping dialogue and performers who felt completely at ease with each other. After four seasons, Connie Britton and Charles Esten clearly have that kind of connection, and their considerable chemistry is the current saving grace of the show. Their scenes together in the premiere swayed from genuinely sweet to momentarily insufferable. Half the time it didn’t even seem like they didn’t even know what they were fighting about. The audience didn’t either.

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The same goes for Scarlett and Gunnar, except they have never really been able to stay together happily for very long, so The Exes’ latest bumps in the road just seem par for the course. But it also doesn’t make it any easier to watch after four seasons. Deacon’s song (at least the music was good) pointed out that he and Rayna will stay together no matter how many fights they get in. Scarlett and Gunnar only seem to fall together out of inertia.

Some high points: No Cash, Frankie, Layla, Luke Wheeler, or whoever Rayna’s homeless friend was. Will finally got his own storyline as he’s now out, more successful than ever, and getting hit on by a handsome clothes designer, who offers temptation to stray from Kevin. Other than Will, the show seems to have settled on focusing on the other eight players (Rayna, Deacon, Maddie, Daphne, Juliette, Avery, Scarlett, and Gunnar), which is plenty. Our supporting team of Glenn, Bucky, and Emily has returned to do all the thankless jobs. And the music, most thankfully, is solid.

Still, my headline for Nashville’s season four finale was “It’s time for Nashville to say goodbye.” This premiere didn’t change that sentiment too much. The season-four showrunners ran Nashville into the ground with the Maddie storyline, but honestly, nobody has seemed to remember how much fun this show once was since season one and Callie Khouri (who directed hour one tonight) and T Bone Burnett were in charge. If there was a laugh or barely a smile (only thanks to Rayna and Deacon) to be found in these two hours of television, I missed them completely. Instead scenes were full of clunky lines like, “Why are you doing this?”, demands that no one be left alone with their private thoughts, and many, many wide open ominous stares from people as they were hugging their supposed loved ones. Where’s the fun in that?

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This is just a premiere check-in for this show: We won’t be doing weekly reviews. Frankly I’m almost afraid to tune in again, as I know I’m bound to see Rayna’s stalking storyline heat up, undoubtedly leading to more panic attacks, and Juliette becoming more and more frustrated after her accident. And more Scarlett and Gunnar bickering. Not much to look forward to. Nashville now almost always bums me out, even more so because it used to be a show I once looked forward to every week. But I haven‘t felt that way in quite a while now.

Stray observations

  • Of course the techie billionaire had to have a shirt under a hoodie under a jacket, otherwise how else would you know that he was a techie?
  • Possible red herring: The geeky social media guy could also be the stalker, but who cares.
  • The key to Rayna’s financial label problems, obviously, is to sign her daughters, who just sound better every single episode.
  • From being a former romantic triangle, it’s nice how Avery and Gunnar and Scarlett all love each other so much now. They should let Avery back in the band.
  • Hey, remember this song? Fun stuff:

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