5 Things 'Nashville' Is Doing Right

Ken Tucker
·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

Oh, Nashville, you’re such a naughty, wayward, frustrating show. You introduce plot lines and characters only to drop them an episode or two later; you force the stars of the show to go through neck-snappingly quick shifts in behavior that stretch credibility. But Nashville, I can’t quit you. I’m always looking for the good in you. I want you to survive for another season, especially given the reports that Thirtysomething inventors Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick might take over as showrunners: I really want to watch a season of Nashvillesomething. In that spirit, I’ve come up with five things I think Nashville is doing right. As of this week, at least.

1. Proving that stars, they’re not like us!

If you or I got an Oscar nomination, we’d be high on life, able to overlook momentary setbacks, basking in the possibilities of new career highs. Juliette Barnes, however? She gets an Oscar nom for playing Patsy Cline, and what does she do? She goes into a deep funk over the way Avery is ignoring her, has a deep fit of jealousy that he’s feeling warmly toward singer-songwriter-droopy-depressive Layla Grant. (Or as Juliette put it: “Layla Grant?!?!?”) Dang, girl, you got an Oscar nomination! Steven Spielberg wants you in his new movie! Truly, Nashville dramatizes the way stars’ flighty moods and self-absorption know no bounds.

2. Employing Mark Collie

Mark Collie’s Frankie has become the season’s surprise Big Bad — the guy who started out as Deacon’s soft-spoken, folksy AA sponsor and barroom business partner has ended up as Deacon’s mortal enemy, a manipulative jerk, betrayer of recovery group ethics, and father of the cold, hard Cash (Jessy Schram). The first time I saw Collie on Nashville, I thought, that guy looks kinda familiar. Then I saw the name Mark Collie in the opening credits and thought, wait, who is Mark Collie playing on this show? I didn’t put the two together for a while, and then I realized: The scratchy-voiced brawler is actually this guy, whose hits I remembered from the 1990s:

3. Dramatizing the way siblings grow apart

You know that big sister or brother you had growing up, the one you looked up to, trailed along after, wanted to be with all the time? Then one day, that sibling turned into a surly teenager and told you to get lost? No plot line on Nashville this season has been as achingly accurate as Maddie’s rejection of Daphne. Maddie has hit her teen years with a yen to become Taylor Swift crossed with Courtney Love; she’s not doing herself any favors, she’s giving Rayna and Deacon gray hairs, and she has just about crushed the spirit of little Daphne, who basically lived to sing sweet harmonies with her sis. Hang in there, Daphne — pretty soon, you’ll be the one driving your ’rents crazy while Maddie is doing her first stint in rehab!

4. Showing that lovers who think they’re destined to be together actually aren’t

If there’s one thing we’ve realized watching the constant, unceasing, maddening, get-a-room-already twosome of Gunnar and Scarlett, it’s that this made-for-each-other twosome is not made for each other. Scarlett is simply too much of a people-pleasing plastic saint (think early-period Emmylou Harris) and Gunnar is too much of a people-pleasing horn-dog (think early-period Blake Shelton) to handle a mature relationship. I like the way Nashville goes against the grain of all TV relationships, in which fated lovers invariably find each other. These two — they’re doomed to stay exes as their band The Exes achieves fame.

5. Debunking the women-can-have-it-all myth

I began this season thinking Nashville was doing Rayna a disservice by putting her music career on hold as she was forced to spend endless scenes schmoozing radio programmers and rack jobbers on her nascent Highway 65 label. Now I look at Rayna’s arc over this season and view it as the Nashville writers’ bold way of going against the tide of leaning in: If Rayna James was originally conceived as a country music protofeminist in the Reba McEntire mold, she’s now become a singer/executive/mother/wife who is barely keeping it together, and I look forward to seeing Connie Britton take us into Rayna’s inevitable crack-up. Or, given the perversity of Nashville storylines, we’ll see Rayna suddenly become the proud owner of Nashville’s first Shake Shack franchise, enlisting Deacon, Maddie, and Daphne as fry cooks to keep them out of trouble. Either way, I’m in.

Nashville airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.