This past week, I’ve been playing around with writing something about how many of the TV shows I like are series where the conflicts are small and life-sized, where things are, more or less, realistic, and where the characters aren’t constantly facing down life-and-death stakes. In a world where every other show seems to be a detective series, a show about normal people, just living their lives can feel like a breath of fresh air. In fact, the above description could be applied to any number of shows, but particularly series like Parenthood, Treme, and Girls, three of my favorite shows on TV. I like it when a show takes time to tell a story that doesn’t necessarily end in blood but might have a healthy dollop of tears. It’s easier to look at that show and say, “Hey, that reflects my life!” even if my actual problems are very different from those of the people on screen.
You can probably see where I’m going with this: Nashville is another show that more or less fits the description above. Yeah, all of these people are in the performing industry, and they’re at various stages of their country-music careers. But for the most part, this is a series about relationship building, about people trying to repair broken relationships, trying to hold on to sustainable ones, and trying to construct new ones. Relationship building is one of my favorite things on TV, to be honest, and I love when two characters very slowly mend, break, or build a bridge between themselves, over weeks and weeks, or even seasons and seasons. Nashville has been trying to do this, and there are scenes in tonight’s episode—like Deacon and Rayna talking about the end of their relationship, or Juliette tearing up as her mother tells her how she feels about her—that approach a good example of this. But for the most part, it feels like the relationships are growing in vacuums.
Let me explain what I mean: On Parenthood, the show does lots and lots of storylines every season, and they’re not all necessarily equals of each other. But the show has a memory for all of those storylines, and any one of them can come up at any given time to inform some of what’s going on. On Nashville, the characters all have fairly rich back-stories and such, but the storylines they’re involved in also feel hermetically sealed off from each other. There are sequences tonight—like at the party celebrating Rayna and Juliette’s duet—that seem like they might start switching things up, but instead, it just feels kind of weird when Juliette’s mom is going to talk to Rayna or Avery, who somehow isn’t dead yet, is going to say hi to Juliette for some reason. When Juliette’s mom talks to Rayna, it’s just not immediately clear what the show is going for or what we’re supposed to think or anything. It’s just another thing that happens.
That sense that the stories are all taking places in bubble universes that never cross over with each other has always been the show’s biggest problem, of course, and it’s been slowly, slowly course-correcting on that for several episodes now. (By slowly, I mean this thing is turning like a barge would turn.) But the show keeps assuming it can just make us care about things by insisting they’re important. The end of this episode, in which Deacon boards the plane Rayna and Juliette are taking on tour and tells Rayna that he’s joined Juliette’s band, actually kind of works, because the writers have gotten us invested in these plots over the past 11 episodes (or whatever it’s been). The Deacon and Rayna story has always been the show’s most reliable, and tossing it into the same hopper as the “Rayna and Juliette go on tour” story seems like it could make everything work. For once, the stories coalesce in a way that’s deliberate, exciting, and full of forward momentum. And it only took this long!
The rest of the episode, of course, is a mixed bag, with entirely too much time spent on everything that’s not anything to do with Rayna and Juliette. The story development on this show is so bizarre, in that it seems to consist entirely of people reacting to things that happen offscreen, like the fallout from Deacon attacking the guy last week, which apparently explodes in his face but does so almost entirely elsewhere. What we see of him mostly just involves him moping around and feeling bad about what happened and how it’s hurt his career. He thinks about sinking back into his addiction again, but he avoids it… somehow. He avoids a call from Coleman. Then he joins Juliette’s band.
So what we’re seeing here isn’t really characters taking action, or even being forced to react to things that are popping up in their face. What we’re seeing is almost entirely people having delayed reactions to things that have already happened that we haven’t seen. This, again, ties into my fundamental disconnect with what this show is trying to do. I have yet to write it off—indeed, I keep giving it “B”s—because I like all of the individual scenes on a craft level, even as I think the storylines themselves don’t make a lot of sense. The show veers away from conflict and drama and action/reaction scenes, instead wanting to do scene after scene of people talking out their feelings. And that’s fine! I could respect that if I thought any of those scenes had some weight to them, but it’s just hard for me to get too worked up about Gunnar’s brother because I just met him last week, you know?
Nashville, I think, falls for the assumption a lot of young TV shows fall for: It assumes that because something is presented on screen, it is automatically going to be fascinating to the audience. It’s like a TV show constructed out of theories of what a good TV show would look like. And I want to like it. I do. I want it to be awesome, because the world needs more shows where nothing happens, but feel momentous nonetheless. But Nashville is the exact opposite of that: It’s a show where momentous, life-shattering things happen—even if they’re not the sorts of things that come with life-and-death stakes—and nobody so much as bats an eye at them. Maybe that’s why the show sparks to life when Rayna and Juliette are on screen together, even though the “older woman and younger woman throw catty remarks at each other” thing was old during the Reagan administration. At least something is happening that looks like conflict. At least somebody seems like they care.
- I’m kind of digging the background score in the show, which sounds like somebody heard Explosions In The Sky, then said, “Hey, let’s just make that sound a little bit more like the backing tracks from a Garth Brooks ballad.” I mean this as a compliment.
- I tried to stand up for Avery there for a while, but he’s just an awful character. I hope that he just goes away and goes away very soon.
- Much as I find Scarlett and Gunnar incredibly boring as characters, I do like when they sing together, and the musical number Avery wanders by toward episode’s end is one of my new favorite songs this show has done. More peppiness, show!