The A.V. Club’s own Carrie Raisler posted an excellent article a few weeks ago about the longevity of The Young And The Restless and the death of the daytime soap opera. Carrie, I am here to tell you that the soap is alive and well at nighttime, often in unlikely places. Like the music industry. Empire is pushing gold records instead of oil like Dallas or Dynasty, and as Nashville enters its fourth season, it’s only a few amnesia cases and an evil twin short of a full-on Days Of Our Lives. It’s got everything: hospital vigils, painful breakups, lots of longstanding bad blood between characters. The problem is that right now Nashville isn’t hosting any of the fun, sparkly side of soaps, only the bleak side. In tonight’s season premiere, every single character is cranky, even Daphne, and she’s 11. (Of course, her dad is in prison, and likely off the show.)

Advertisement

Nashville starts off the season by sneakily leaving it up in the air who had complications during the liver transplant: Deacon or Beverly. Oh, the uncertain anguish of Rayna and the untouched pillow next to her! But of course, as even this show realizes that Rayna and Deacon have been through enough already, it’s Beverly in the liver-transplant-induced coma. This is understandably enough to greatly worry her relatives: brother Deacon who sleeps in a chair next to her bed, and her estranged daughter Scarlett.

This medically related upheaval sends Scarlett running from the terrifying instability of her on-again/off-again beau Gunnar (which is a laugh in and of itself, he’s about the nicest guy in the world) to the deadly dull boringness of her live-in doctor boyfriend. As is always in music, the connection that Gunnar and Scarlett feel in their songs can not be denied, and we obviously know how this torturous romance is going to wind up. In ancient soap-opera speak, Gunnar and Scarlett are endgame.

But they are not the show’s “supercouple”: That honor goes to Rayna and Deacon, who at last appear to realize that they were meant to be together, and aim to get married just as soon as all their troubles are behind them, like that will ever happen. Now they have not just Beverly to deal with, but the Neely O’Hara of country-music herself: Juliette Barnes. She’s tossed Rayna’s label over for Luke’s and has left her husband and newborn daughter, and is headed for a breakdown of the highest magnitude (which is bound to be totally different from Scarlett’s breakdown two years ago!). Gotta say those entourage party scenes are pretty fun, as are the weeping phone calls in the mirrored bathroom. The Rayna and Juliette relationship has always been one of the show’s absolute best, like when they were writing songs together or when Rayna went to Juliette’s mother’s funeral. So of course Juliette would call Rayna when she had no one else to turn to in a vulnerable moment, and then coldly ignore Rayna when she was nice enough to take her private plane to fly to Juliette’s show with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. The scene ended about as unhappily as we could imagine, as Juliette is so jaded by this time she can’t believe anyone, even Rayna, is sincere. But Nashville should throw Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere together as much as possible, as they play off of each other so well.

Advertisement

I was praying that Juliette’s rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” (since Juliette is starring in a biopic on her, the show does realize Cline had other songs, right?) would segue into a mashup with Aerosmith’s “Crazy,” but unfortunately Juliette and Steve just played it straight, although it was fun to see Tyler hanging out backstage with Luke Wheeler. But if we’ve learned anything from Christina Aguilera’s Jade St. John (if that isn’t a soap-opera name, I don’t know what is), stunt-casting will not save this show.

One thing could: The music. The “Crazy” cover is a waste, but the Gunnar-Scarlett duet a welcome reprise, as these two really do make beautiful music together, even when they’re apart. Also split: After finally opening up about his sexuality, Will is even more despondent, too uncomfortable to go out to dinner with his cute boyfriend Kevin, unhappy in a gay bar. It’s a depressing outcome for Will’s brave public act, and hopefully a situation that will improve soon.

In fact, all these situations could use some improvement. The sole bright spot of the entire episode is Beverly coming out of her coma, and she’s not even a character anyone likes. Also, Avery and baby Cadence return to town to move in with Gunnar and Will, for the delightful new spinoff, Three Nashville Men And A Baby.

Advertisement

Rayna pulls up her bootstraps once again, after a couple of radio DJ’s hilariously tick off the bad luck present on her label roster: If only Scarlett hadn’t self-destructed, or Juliette hadn’t walked off, or Sadie hadn’t shot and killed her ex-husband. These are just the kinds of issues label heads have to deal with, I suppose. So Rayna steels herself, angling for better times ahead, but unfortunately they’re not here yet. But since the best parts of this show have always been about—say it with me—the music, hopefully the rest of this Nashville season can again find the joy in creation and composition and the melding of these wonderful country voices together.

Stray observations

  • Love Maddie’s reference to her mom’s coma, to differentiate from her aunt’s coma. Classic soap.
  • Actually, Juliette is like her own evil twin.
  • Scarlett and that doctor look so mismatched, like they don’t even belong in the same room, let alone the same relationship.
  • Where is Jeff Fordham? That Patrick is a weak stand-in.
  • Juliette’s new groupie friend: Annoying Nashville character or most annoying Nashville character ever?
  • Probably won’t be doing weekly reviews of Nashville this season, but I hope to drop in every month or so to keep up. I’ve always been a soap addict.

Advertisement