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November 15, 2012 - 2:12pm

'Nashville' RECAP: Nashville is no Dillon

BY GIBSON JOHNS AND KAYLA UPADHYAYA

ABC

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 “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave).”

Kayla: One thought jumped into my mind as I was watching this week’s episode: What I really want “Nashville” to be is “Friday Night Lights,” with the country music being the football. Football was a way for the show to explore its emotional underpinnings, and “Nashville” has hinted at this with its exploration of the music industry. “Friday Night Lights” so perfectly had a sense of place. It was a portrait of Dillon, Texas, and it delved into the lives of the town’s inhabitants, always maintaining that importance of the town itself. Nashville is no Dillon, but I would love for this show to be more focused on this city and the people in it. We’ve gotten hints of this when the show is dealing specifically with Rayna’s music career and Scarlett and Gunnar’s up-and-coming rise, but both storylines move in small bits, and the connections are few and far between. Whatever happened to Watty’s call to Rayna telling her to listen to Scarlett and Gunnar? That could have amounted to much more than the idea of a Rayna-Deacon tour, and yet it didn’t. That three-way tour we thought for sure was an eventuality? I’m getting less and less sure, and the writers don’t seem to know either. One of the best things that happens in this episode is that Scarlett’s breakup with Avery leads her to move in with Deacon. If Scarlett can somehow be more interwoven into Deacon and Rayna’s world, pieces will start to move into place.

Gibson: Although I do think that there has been some emphasis on Nashville itself, I do agree that there should be more. Nashville is a great little city with a rich music culture and I think the writers have done a fair job at capturing this — The Bluebird Cafe and the atmosphere there being a good example — but they could learn something from “Friday Night Lights” and the way they created recognizable locations for us (The Alamo Freeze, the Taylor’s house, Coach Taylor’s office, etc.). Addressing the minimal actual connections being created between the Scarlett/Avery and Deacon/Rayna storylines, it seems like we are finally getting a more tangible crossover here. Scarlett has moved in with her uncle Deacon (who, we learned really doesn't like Avery) to get away from Avery who, seemingly, is going to sleep with the newly introduced Marilyn (whom Deacon has some past connection with and is holding some sort of grudge against?). The parallel plots are becoming more intertwined, which is good for the direction of the show.

Kayla: The Blue Bird is certainly the best example of a tangible place, and its home to some of the seasons’ best scenes so far. And I’m not impressed by the Avery-heavy story this week. He decides at the last minute to not sleep with a potential new manager only to then sleep with her (or so we are to believe) after Scarlett breaks up with him. The manager’s entire existence is not only a cliche but also just a plot device for splitting up Avery and Scarlett — which yes, needed to happen, but not under such silly circumstances. Avery’s ambition being the cause of their breakup works (and it’s interesting — ambitious women on TV are usually the ones ruining relationships), but the manager development is over-the-top and unnecessary in my opinion. It was hard for me to take it seriously. “Nashville” is certainly a show that benefits from not taking itself too seriously, but there’s a fine line between juicy soap and hackneyed soap.

Gibson: I felt the same way about said-manager. Her interest in representing Avery was simply way too convenient and easy — although there are certainly examples of stars being discovered on the spot. Avery is just not good enough for this to be believable. Furthermore, it just so happens that this prospective manager is cougar-like character who sleeps with everyone she signs? No thanks, writers. But yes, this break-up needed to finally happen … but here’s to hoping that Marilyn isn’t around for long. Just a note: I loved that we saw an unexpected new side to Scarlett in the break-up scene and was impressed with Clare Bowen’s acting throughout the episode.

Kayla: I agree! Bowen has been given a lot of the same things to do (look loving, look heartbroken, look adorable), so seeing Scarlett get truly angry was great. I'd like for her to have some storylines outside of Avery and Gunnar, and I think that her moving in with Deacon can finally give us that. As for other storylines this week that just didn't click ... if the thickening mayoral race is supposed to be giving us a better sense of place and character, it isn’t working. Most of this episode relies on this political drama, but there’s no urgency. Teddy is still barely a character, the cops finding drugs on Coleman was so contrived it was plain old stupid, and Lamar is still a very one-dimensional soap villain. The whole time these “twists” were unfolding, I was wishing for some damn music, which this episode was again light on.

Gibson: Again, the writers just need to stop trying to make Teddy happen. Lamar convincing him to let him set Coleman up and get a traffic violation — which goes against the mentality that Teddy started the campaign with — gave us yet another example of Teddy being a character without a backbone and, really, without much purpose. When he watches Coleman’s statement on TV with Rayna, she isn’t even close to being convinced by his denial that Lamar was somehow involved in the incident. Unfortunately, it looks like this storyline is only going to get more attention, as Coleman’s wife is pushing for him to leak the photos of Peggy and Teddy shadily meeting up in dark settings to discuss their uninteresting history together. Yawn.

Kayla: The photos, again, are pretty low-stakes ... especially since the affair isn’t even happening. Even if he does leak them out, they really aren't that compromising. Are they enough to convince voters of an affair? Yes. But Rayna? Probably not. She’s more rational than that. It could dig up Teddy’s past financial shadiness, but again, no one watching this show cares about that, especially if its never going to connect to the bigger picture. Speaking of Rayna, I do like that we got to see her loosen up a bit thanks to four whiskey shots and a drunken recording sesh with her new producer, a stubborn rocker whose real-life equivalent I can’t quite place my finger on, but it will probably come to me. I think the unlikely pairing of these two has potential to be a fun development, but I still fail to see how this all connects to the bigger picture. I get that Rayna is trying to redefine herself — or rather, maintain her original voice that has been diluted by the changing trends — but we’re being told this a lot more than we’re being shown it.

Gibson: Although the two major aspects of this episode that we’ve discussed weren’t great, I definitely enjoyed the developments for Rayna this week. She wants to get away from her “Moms and SUVs” image and find that lost voice that you already mentioned. Rayna is becoming much happier with her life now that she's recording great music, but there is still the threat of her label vetoing her work with this new rock producer. Like she said, she doesn’t want to play dirty, but she might have to. In terms of this connecting to the bigger picture, I see it going in a variety of different ways but mainly see it as a refocusing on Rayna's career which something that “Nashville” has lost. If we think back the pilot, the main tension was that between Rayna and Juliette as legitimate rivals in the country music world. It was a the threatening new versus the fading old. With this rejuvenated Rayna, what I hope we get is a continuation of this rivalry as the show’s central tension. I miss it and the emphasis it put on the music.

Kayla: I hope we get to see some of the rivalry again as well. I was hoping this is where Gunnar and Scarlett could maybe come into the picture — either by writing songs for Rayna or singing backup for her, which was also alluded to in the pilot but never really panned out. I was initially afraid of “Nashville” getting too caught up in the rivalry, and then it altogether disappeared. Bringing it back could also give Juliette more momentum. The cancellation of Juliette’s tour last week continues to trouble me, as it’s left the character in somewhat of a no-man’s land. I get that this new character — a tiny Tim Tebow who happens to play guitar — is just another step in the direction of Juliette changing her ways, but come on. He really is as boring as she says. And I don’t entirely buy that Juliette would go to such extreme measures to ensure that the photos of him looking aggressive and drunk never get out. Was there really that much of a connection there? This all just felt a little random, and again kind of threw away some of what we were given in previous weeks. To have Juliette and Deacon have that great connection when she picks him up from jail only to have absolutely none of that carry through this week leaves a disconnect.

Gibson: I agree that the absence of any Deacon and Juliette interaction was disappointing and threw me off a little bit. There was barely even any mention of his time in jail, her bailing him out, or how he helped get her mother into rehab. These are important events that are being forgotten about quickly. That being said, I kind of like Juliette and this clean-cut Sean Parker guy. I do see where you’re coming from on him being boring and whatnot, but part of the reason why he felt like such a random addition was because of the lack of Deacon involvement. Maybe he could’ve pushed Juliette towards Sean by recommending she totally move on — something where he gave his approval. But as we saw in that amazing little scene on Juliette’s private plane, they do have some chemistry. I loved their duet and thought it demonstrated a potential future together. Juliette realized in this episode that Sean Butler is a welcome change of pace for her and the bad boy types she’s usually drawn to.

Kayla: There’s certainly some potential for growth here. But if the show is going to continue to throw in new characters who affect the plot quite a bit, I’d just like them to be a little more fleshed out — we still know next to nothing about Haley, and Sean could likely slip into the same category. Again, this is where the show could pull some influence from “Friday Night Lights,” which always excelled in making even its most periphery characters resonate.

Gibson: Definitely valid. This brings the show’s slight pacing issues back up. They have yet to reach a happy medium between their tendencies to have story lines become repetitive and failing to develop characters before they introduce even more new people to the mix.

Kayla: Agreed, and in an episode that doesn't quite balance its stories all that well, we don’t even get music to make up for it. (Is Avery really that surprised that his band isn’t getting booked when they sound like a bad punk cover band? Sorry, but it had to be said.) I understand that extensive country music catalogue combing goes on to find songs for the show, but please please please give us more! Other characters that I’d like to see worked more evenly into the fold: Rayna’s daughters. Child actors can bring a drama down, but I don’t see Lennon and Maisy becoming overly annoying if they get a little more screentime.

Gibson: They definitely need to step up their music game. Two songs is usually enough to satisfy me, but not one when of them is sung by Avery and his dubious band. It's weird that we haven't even seen Lennon and Maisy for two whole episodes … they’re relatively solid child actors with damn good voices — why not utilize them more? It seems like a no brainer, really. Overall, this episode did some stuff right — Rayna working to revitalize her career, Avery and Scarlett finally breaking up, showing some potential with the Juliette and Sean relationship — but also did a lot that wasn’t so right. I look forward to an improvement when the next episode airs in two weeks.

Kayla: “Nashville” has the pieces, but it isn’t connecting them yet, and that can be frustrating. I don’t just want vignettes; I want big picture growth and movement. The pilot so excellently lined up the pieces for us, but then threw most of them away in favor of plotlines I simply don’t care about. Of course, it is early on in its run, and this is the exact time a show should be playing with different elements to see what works and what doesn’t. And one of the downsides to network television is that even with the best shows, there will be episodes that just don’t work as well. Luckily for us, it was just announced that “Nashville” is getting a full season pickup, so there’s plenty of time for the writers to convince us that things will start to line up. Also means folks are stuck with our recaps for a little bit longer. Victories all around!