October 18, 2012 - 6:00pm
BY GIBSON JOHNS AND KAYLA UPADHYAYA
ABC’s new musical soap “Nashville” explores the ups and downs of the country music industry. Daily Arts Writer Gibson Johns and Senior Arts Editor Kayla Upadhyaya recap the most recent episode.
Kayla: I have watched the “Nashville” pilot so many times that I was starting to think of it as a standalone piece. I kind of forgot that there would be more to come, which speaks to the effectiveness of that pilot but also had me a little concerned. I couldn’t really see how the series would progress, and that can be a huge problem if I'm thinking “well, where’s this gonna go?” so early in the game. But the pilot wasn't just a random piece of awesomeness. Last night's episode works just as well, and threw some new things into the mix that I loved! I have a stronger sense of these characters and of the show's overall voice.
Gibson: I completely agree. I think I watched the pilot three times myself and found myself wondering the same things. For the most part, though, I’m excited about the direction they’re taking the different plot lines, and it seems like they're going to tie together really nicely. I was most concerned with the Scarlett and Gunnar plot line and where it was going to fit in in the grand scheme of things, but the way the writers have made them into a sort of parallel to Rayna and Deacon has given the show a great dynamic.
Kayla: Agreed! The Gunnar-Scarlett storyline has taken some interesting turns that I didn’t necessarily expect. The tension between Scarlett and her boyfriend Avery isn’t necessarily driven by Gunnar’s obvious love for her, but moreso by the fact that while Avery is working his ass off to try to make it in this business, Scarlett all of a sudden has Watty White recording her demo when she doesn’t even want to be a singer-songwriter. The intimacy associated with songwriting in this episode is really intriguing. Avery assumes that something has happened between Gunnar and Scarlett since they wrote a song together. Rayna is clearly very disturbed by Deacon and Juliette writing a song together.
Gibson: Yeah I love how the writers have put such an emphasis on songwriting and what it can imply about the characters' relationships. When it comes to the Rayna/Deacon/Juliette triangle, I think that Juliette and Deacon writing a song together sort of solidifies Juliette as a real threat to Rayna because now she's intruded into not just her professional life but also her personal life. But the collaboration between Juliette and Deacon on “Undermine” also helped to shed light on Juliette as a deeper character than I realized. This episode helped to show her real desires as a musician, which are to make music with true meaning. It’ll be interesting to see if she is able to breakout of the mold that the people around her have put her in.
Kayla: I really like what the show is doing with Juliette, though there’s certainly room for improvement. Even in the pilot, I could tell that there was more to her than meets the eye (which the character ends up literally saying this week), but I’m glad the writers are really zeroing in on that. It’d be easy to make Juliette a simple plot device: an obstacle for Rayna, a way for Deacon to explore his own problems. But this week, we really get a better sense of who she is: a girl who feels very trapped in this identity that the label has created for her. She wants more.
Gibson: Not to mention the storyline with her mother that wasn't touched on this week (but appears to come back in the picture next week). There are many directions that Juliette's character could go, to say the least.
Kayla: One of “Nashville” ’s key strengths right now has been its exposition. The writers have a strong sense of these characters and their backstories, but they’re being careful not to give us too much information at one time. Just when I was starting to think “OK, but why did Rayna ever leave Deacon for her husband when the two are so very obviously still in love,” I got my answer. It turns out that Deacon had been a serious drug addict. The revelation is unfolded in what was really an info dump — with Rayna literally spelling out her past for two guys who’ve been hired to look into Teddy’s past before his mayoral campaign really kicks off. But it didn’t feel like an info dump because of how organically it unfolded and the subtlety to Connie Britton’s acting.
Gibson: You’re right — the reveal of that information was definitely a bomb drop, but it didn’t feel like one. Speaking of Teddy, I see him as probably the weakest part of “Nashville.” I remain unconvinced by the marriage between Rayna and him, which I think is a result of, what you mentioned, Connie Britton’s impeccable acting and the strength of her character. I feel like the writers are still kind of undecided about what kind of character they want to make Teddy — is he a guy that can successfully bring home the bacon and finally come out of Rayna's shadow, or is he just Rayna's father's puppet?
Kayla: He is definitely the weakest character. I just can’t get a sense of who he is. He seems very emasculated by Rayna's success and is none too happy with her deciding to go on tour with Deacon, which just makes me dislike him. And then at the same time, he’s burning secret documents ominously. That moment was so purely soapy ... along with every single moment that involves Powers Boothe. But at this point, the show is managing its balance between soap operatics and emotional character moments quite well. And there really are some truly wonderful character moments. The look on Juliette’s face when Deacon calls Rayna up to the stage instead of her, the explosive argument between Rayna and Deacon, Gunnar’s excitement over Watty's offer to record his demo with Scarlett — so many feelings going on here and I’m lapping it all up!
Gibson: I know! I really did love that whole final scene at the end of the episode at Bluebird Cafe where Deacon and Rayna share such an intimate moment on stage. I thought that that song would officially lead to them touring together, but then Rayna tells Deacon that she regrets singing it with him and goes back to tell Teddy she loves him. As much as it frustrates me to not see Rayna and Deacon together, I'm glad that “Nashville” isn’t giving us what we want right away — if at all. Just like all great, complex characters, Rayna Jaymes has inner struggles of her own that she has to deal with, not to mention a family to worry about.
Kayla: I loved the final scene as well. When Rayna joined Deacon in his car and said “I wish we hadn’t sung that song,” my heart broke. There wasn’t much dialogue in the scene, but there didn’t need to be. The song and the actors’ physicality said it all. Much like the pilot's final scene — in which it was Scarlett and Gunnar singing out their hearts — this was one of the episode’s strongest moments. Which brings me to my next point … kind of in the same vain as the solid balance between over-the-top soap and raw drama, the series is handling its musical element quite well so far. I unabashedly love musicals. But they can feel very gimmicky on television. Just look at “Smash” or “Glee.” On “Nashville,” the music is all very important to both plot and character (which goes back to that intimacy associated with songwriting), but the musical numbers never feel forced or silly. It’s a musical, but it’s not in your face about it.
Gibson: The musical component really could have been “Nashville” ’s downfall, as you said, and it has ended up being the complete opposite. Heading into the season, when I heard that there would be original music every week that would even be put on iTunes, I was worried that they were going to incorporate an excess amount of music just for the sake of having music, but that’s not at all what they did. The music — which is really only two to three songs an episode — helps to evolve both storylines and characters alike. For example, although I thought that it boarded on cheesy, the scene where Juliette records the song that Deacon and her wrote together alone in her room, we realized that her relationship with Deacon might actually mean something to her other than simply serving as a way to mess with Rayna’s emotions. The music is arguably the show's greatest asset other than Connie Britton.
Kayla: Yes, exactly! The musical moments haven’t only been cool, they’ve felt necessary to the story. And that's really important for a musical. My biggest concern at the moment is that we’re rolling through too much story so quickly. It’s great that the writers aren’t beating around the bush with things — lesser shows may have dragged out Scarlett’s decision to go through with recording the demo over several episodes, and the pilot pretty much straight up tells us that one of Rayna’s daughters is actually Deacon’s offspring, unbeknownst to Teddy — but this can be a problem in the long run. If the series starts to burn through all its great substance too early on, we’ll be left with fluff in the coming seasons. In terms of getting people hooked though, they’re playing their cards right. I just hope they can sustain it. I won’t worry about it for now … let’s just go with a cautious “we’ll see.” Hey, and even if the coming episodes aren’t quite as strong as these first two, at least we’ll have the genuine pleasure of staring at Connie Britton’s hair for 45 minutes. Fair Warning: I will probably mention her hair in every recap. You can’t stop me!!!!