Nashville s5 ep 3

It looks more and more as if this is indeed a change of direction for Nashville. Nor is it obviously budget-driven: it appears to me more like a conscious attempt by the former thirtysomething head honchos Herskovitz and Zwick to turn Nashville into a quieter, more intimate drama, with the music business pushed into the foreground again, and doubling as an extended family for the main characters.

And one sign that the new showrunners are doing something right: the most fun storyline of the week probably belongs – although I can’t quite believe I’m saying this – to Older Girl. Deacon has managed to wangle her an internship at a recording studio, where Avery is producing an album, on which Deacon is also a hired hand, by very modestly talented YouTube sensation Ashley Willerman. Now, Ashley has a clear idea of what she wants to do – and it isn’t what Avery thinks she should be doing – and is also a little high-maintenance, although in truth no more than most recording artists. That she falls short of insufferability is probably in part due to Bridgit Mendler’s layered and nuanced performance as Ashley.

Avery, unhappy that Ashley won’t take his advice, walks out of the studio (“I thought I was bad”, Juliette observes, when Avery tells her the story), and OG – head turned, perhaps, by the handsome street musician playing outside the studio – manages to keep screwing up Ashley’s lunch and coffee orders, and when Ashley overreacts OG calls her a bitch and gets the sack. Which, y’know. As Younger Girl says to OG later, regarding her getting Ashley’s orders wrong, “Isn’t that your job?”

OG isn’t for budging until Deacon has a word with her, which is less appealing as a storyline: the premise is that Deacon is walking on eggshells around OG because of the evidence she gave at her emancipation hearing, evidence which we’re now all expected to accept was untruthful. Dudes, I was there, and I haven’t forgotten: Deacon’s behaviour throughout season 4 was more or less entirely insufferable, and it’s reasonable that OG should have been frightened of him. But OG apologises to Deacon (“I’m not blameless in all this”, says Deacon, which understates matters somewhat if you ask me) then to Ashley, who accepts it graciously; and OG-the-intern is back in place. Nicely done, all in all, and I look forward to seeing more of Ms Mendler.

Nothing else works quite as well, although – with one exception – it’s far from unsatisfactory. The Exes need a video to relaunch their careers. Will is moving in with Kevin. Juliette starts to regain some feeling in her legs, and visits Hallie: after we get the crassness of Juliette’s gift to Hallie of a new car out of the way, it looks as if this storyline will indeed be about Juliette and religious faith, which could be interesting. The episode was let down by Nerd, whose name I still haven’t caught, stealing some trinket from Rayna’s office when she’s not there, and I already KNOW just HOW MUCH this arc is going to annoy me. That aside, though, I liked ‘Let’s Put It Back Together Again’ quite a lot.

Nashville s5 ep 2

In many ways this episode is something of a triumph: I wouldn’t have thought it possible for Nashville to be this annoying without the input of The Girls, who are, this week, no more than malevolent offscreen presences. Just about everyone else, though, seems to be determined to behave in a way which makes me want to throw something at the screen.
Rayna, for example, is back from her road trip, positively bouncing with excitement about her big plan to record, with Deacon, a concept album about their life together. Bucky – eye on the Highway 65 bottom line – is sceptical, but ultimately knows who’s paying the piper, so falls into line. Deacon clearly doesn’t like the idea, patiently explaining to Rayna that there’s quite a lot about his recent history that he really doesn’t want to dwell on, but agrees to think about it. Rayna, however, won’t let it go for more than five minutes, to the point where Deacon is clearly wondering whether death might have been preferable to a liver transplant, if it means having to endure Rayna.

But that’s nothing to compared with Gunnar and Scarlett DEAR GOD WILL YOU STOP WITH THIS SHIT? Scarlett is jealous because Autumn is texting Gunnar – even though he isn’t replying – and because one of Gunnar’s songs, written while they were apart, might not be about her. The lyric makes reference to “golden eyes”, which she doesn’t have, although as Gunnar despairingly points out no-one does, and it’s a generic love song. She sulks anyway.

Meantime Will meets a designer, Jakob Fair, who totally comes onto him. Will rebuffs him with more than a little regret, but this all happens so swiftly that I’d say Kevin isn’t long for this world. Juliette – who at least is behaving in character – demands that her bitches (Avery and/or Emily) track down her “angel”. And Rayna is being stalked, presumably either by worryingly intense tech zillionaire Zach, who wants to – ahem – “hack (her) cloud”, or worryingly intense H65 media guy Geek, whose real name I didn’t catch.

But then, as I’m wondering whether I ever want to watch this show again, it all kind of sorts out, in a way which is hardly satisfactory from a dramatic point of view, but which at least meant that I didn’t destroy my TV. Gunnar changes the words of his song so that it’s explicitly about Scarlett. Deacon relents. Juliette meets the pastor of church her “angel” attends; he’s charming and soft-spoken, explains that the woman – Hallie – doesn’t want any attention, but agrees to pass Juliette’s number on to her. These scenes have an appealing dreaminess to them. And, as I said last week, the dialogue is much improved from last season; there is, I think, a script doctor in the house.

Nashville s5 ep 1

I’m not sure, on reflection, what I was expecting from a new season of Nashville, particularly one with thirtysomething’s creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick as showrunners. And the first couple of scenes didn’t help, exactly: Rayna driving – driving! – through a small town, stopping to refuel, and hearing an elderly blind musician singing ‘The Wayfaring Stranger’. Then back three weeks, to the aftermath of a plane crash, which is of course the consequence of the season 4 cliffhanger finale. The only survivor – Juliette – is lying in a field, clinging to life, when she’s ministered to by a local, an African-American woman who then sings to her to keep her conscious, and who appears to Juliette to be some kind of angel. WTF is going on?

Well… what’s going on is, I think, is that this is a new a CMT show called ‘Nashville’ that looks a little bit like the cancelled ABC show Nashville, but isn’t quite the same thing. For sure, there are similarities. The Girls are back, for one, and even though Rayna has wasted a fortune on buying Older Girl out of her Lennox Hill contract, she is, if anything, even more obnoxious than before, particularly to her annoying younger sister. (She apologises by the end of the episode. Which does at least represent progress, even though there isn’t a jury in Tennessee which would have convicted any of her family members of murder had they decided to deal with OG in a way she might understand.)

Juliette has survived her plane crash, but is, for now, confined to a wheelchair, having sustained paralysis which might or might not be temporary. Given that she was truculent and self-pitying before, it will readily be appreciated that she’s not had any good reason to change. “I love you!” simpers St. Avery. “We’ll see how you feel in a few weeks”, pouts Juliette in response. Hayden Panettiere, incidentally, is still bringing the awesome in the acting department. And Gunnlett is still a thing, which is really all I want.

What’s happening with Rayna, though, is less clear. Highway 65 is running short on cash – should have left OG where she was, babe, and spent the money on something more rewarding – and Rayna has taken a corporate charity gig in Silicon Valley, where she’s fêted by slightly sinister tech zillionaire and self-styled fanboy Zach Wells. But she’s having panic attacks while flying – maybe a Juliette thing, maybe not – and decides to drive home, which is where we came in. She’s already told Zach that she hasn’t recorded in a while because she doesn’t have anything to sing any more, which sounds unlikely. And Juliette revisits the site of the crash in order to track down her Magical Negro – not the show’s first, either – and finds her singing gospel music in a church. I have no idea where this is going.

Or where the show is going, to be honest. I think that ‘Nashville’ is a slower, calmer Nashville, shorn – for budgetary reasons – of a few cast members, and running at about half the speed of its namesake. Neither of which are necessarily bad. Also, there were occasions on which the dialogue took off in unexpected but enjoyable directions. I’m far from convinced, but after being somewhat bored during the first half of the episode ended up… kind of enjoying it?

Public Service Announcement 15 of 2017: Nashville

Every year I welcome the new season of Nashville, while noting with caution that the advance word from America – we’re normally some way behind in the UK – isn’t great. And every year I watch it, review it, and (mostly) adore it. In short, I’m long past the point of pretending that I’m anything other than hopelessly in love with Nashville. This time round the circumstances are a little unusual, though: the show was cancelled by ABC at the end of its fourth season, then picked up by CMT, a Viacom-owned country music channel. (And CMT has just renewed it for a sixth season, so it can’t be doing too badly for them.) I’ve not managed to avoid spoilers quite as successfully as I would have liked, so I’m sort of aware that Something Happens during this run. But you won’t be reading about that on here until it does. Weekly reviews as ever (Friday, 9pm, Sky Living).

Nashville s4 ep 21

Rayna and Deacon are in New York City for the benefit concert she promised to do a few episodes ago, although Vita, the car-dwelling thief who inspired it, has just disappeared from the show’s collective memory. Rather like poor old Riff, it’s like she didn’t ever exist. But then Rayna finds out that Older Girl is working with Big Name Producer, who is also a big sexual predator; he tried to force himself on Rayna years ago when she was young and vulnerable.

Rayna can’t get hold of OG, so manages to persuade The Huffington Post to publish an open letter which calls BNP out by name. This all seems to happen unrealistically quickly, but what the hell, it’s the last episode of the season. Then, unable to bear the thought of what might be happening to his daughter, Deacon disappears, which generally means that someone’s going to have to be hosed off a wall. He gets there, though, in time to stop BNP; and, for once, manages not to hit someone – although, paradoxically, it’s someone who deserves a beating – and he and OG get the hell out of there.

The most entertaining and moving storyline of the week, however, belongs to Juliette, who’s in LA for the Oscars. She invites Avery and Cadence – and, as it happens, Layla – to join her, which of course puts Layla’s pert little nose out of joint. Juliette then discovers that someone – *ahem* Layla *ahem* – has leaked details of Jeff’s rooftop plunge to the press, and Jeff’s sister sues her. She settles out of court – again, this all happens unrealistically quickly, but what the hell etc. – then gives an interview during which she admits everything, thus finally giving herself a chance to move on.

But does Layla get away with it? Well, no. Glenn finds out what she’s been doing, and sacks her as a client; then Avery finds out too, and sacks her as a girlfriend (“You’re crazy, and we’re done!” – great line), before more or less reconciling with Juliette by phone. I do feel kind of sorry for Layla, who’s had a rough couple of seasons. Which all started with her gay husband, Will. This week he manages to get himself on the Cynthia Davis show after launching a sort of country music protest outside her studio. (The song that he and Luke do, incidentally, is something like the best thing Luke’s ever done on the show.) Kevin watches approvingly. Luke matchmakes a little, then gets out of the way. What a season Luke has had.

The news isn’t so good for The Exes, though, and therefore not for me. Scarlett decides that she needs to tell Gunnar how she feels, but at the precise moment when she’s doing so Autumn dashes into the room and proprietorially coils herself around Gunnar. At that precise moment. My note on this scene is simply “OFFS”. A subsequent conversation doesn’t sort things out, and so Scarlett and Gunnar decide that it’s time to pursue solo careers, much to the horror of their manager dude (who, it should be said, displays the patience of a saint throughout, combined with tact, and with genuine affection for his charges. Rather like Glenn and Bucky, as CJ has already observed).

So The Exes – still on tour – hit the stage for the last time, faces grim; not for the first time, it’s very Civil Wars. But as they unfurl another of their lovely, angsty songs, they make eye contact, the onstage chemistry reasserts itself, Gunnar FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY realises what time it is, and they make out. On stage. On effing stage. As a very longstanding, and intense, Gunnlett shipper I tried manfully to underreact, but let’s be honest; I squee’d my head off. I suppose all that leaves is a nagging sense that I never quite worked out what Autumn’s game was, and that Alicia Witt, an interesting actor, was somewhat underserved. Still, Gunnlett!

And then… well, at the time the episode was being written and filmed, it looked as if it was going to be the Nashville series finale, so just about everyone else gets a happy ending as well. OG comes back to Rayna and Deacon, who kiss. Will and Kevin kiss. Luke realises that his ex-wife might just have been the love of his life, and calls her. (Whoever she might be. We haven’t seen her yet.) Juliette decides that the Academy Awards can get on just fine without her, so boards a plane to go home to Avery and Cadence. As it happens, though, the writers and producers had time to pull the happy Julvery reunion scene which had been filmed, and instead insert one in which a distress signal is received from Juliette’s plane, in order to give us a cliffhanger for a possible fifth season; then, after being cancelled by ABC, Nashville unexpectedly did indeed find itself a new home on cable channel CMT.

There’s no word yet whether UK viewers will get to see that fifth season, which has just started in America. Still, I will totally be there if we do. The advance word on season 4 was that it was something of a letdown. But despite the welter of annoying characters (e.g. Deacon) and annoying storylines (e.g. anything with Deacon) I generally loved it, and this was a terrific way to round the season off.

Nashville s4 ep 20

Rayna and Deacon are in couples’ therapy, which Deacon approaches with his usual sensitivity and judiciousness, which is to say that he shouts. A lot. However, when he snits that he would love to be the guy who doesn’t make the same mistake twice, Rayna’s eyes roll so far and so hard one hopes she has some of Tennessee’s finest ocular surgeons on speed-dial. “Twice? Deacon, it’s been a lifetime”. And, somewhere behind Deacon’s big dumb puppydog eyes, something falls into place.

Another couple which seems just about ready to split up is The Exes. “Are we doing the not-talking-to-each-other thing again?” their road manager wearily asks them. Yup, they don’t say. Enter Autumn, with a great idea: why don’t they go to Boston to see her close personal friend Elton John? By “they” she means “not Scarlett”, so Gunnar and Autumn head out to “Boston” for Elton’s little promotional stint on Nashville. (I quite like Elton, as it happens, so no harm to him for taking advantage of the opportunity.) Gunnar even gets to go on stage and play a song with Elton. One from the new album, of course.

Meantime Scarlett is trying to look something other than miserable at a photoshoot for the ad campaign mentioned last week, which leads to a quick bout of photographer-supplied therapy, at the end of which she breaks down in tears and realises that she’s in love with Gunnar. This seems to come as some sort of revelation to her, even if to any regular Nashville viewer – or, for that matter, anyone who’s ever seen a randomly-selected five minute sample – it’s about as obvious a proposition as can be imagined. By coincidence, though, at that precise moment Gunnar is thanking Autumn for getting him on stage with Elton John by boning her. No, Gunnar. No. That having been said, I still can’t quite get a handle on Autumn’s game here. If she just wants to sleep with Gunnar, fair enough. If she has some sort of business proposition for a Gunnar solo act, that would be somewhat naughty but at least comprehensible. So far, though, it’s just looked as if she wants to split The Exes up because she’s bad, and I’d like a little more motivation than that.

And Luke, the dude who Rayna should recognise as the decent guy who got away, is everywhere defending Will, who is somewhat reluctant to become a spokesman for anyone other than himself. Then Luke gets word that Colt has been beaten up at military college, and when he gets there Grandpa Colt, another rancid old bigot, is there already and straining at the leash to blame it all on Luke. And just as I was thinking, not for the first time this season, that Luke has suffered more than enough, Colt comes round, tells Luke that the incident happened because he was standing up for his father, and that he’s proud of Luke. Actually, it was quite moving. And if anyone in this show deserves a moment like that, it’s Luke. Then some dude shows up at Will’s house, and thanks Will for what he’s doing, with the result that Will is now ready to take the fight to the bigots himself.

Finally, Avery and Juliette still clearly have some very unfinished business. Juliette has hooked up with nice-but-bland Noah, who might know how to deal with a teething Cadence but isn’t really lighting Juliette’s fire. Avery is at Layla’s album launch and worrying about Cadence, who he’s left with Mommy and her new special friend. You can see that Avery doesn’t like being relegated to the role of baby daddy, and he wants to check in on, um, Cadence, but Layla trembles her lip and he decides not to. If this relationship survives next week’s season finale, I’ll be surprised. Top entertainment.

Nashville s4 ep 19

Following the events of last week Rayna and Deacon have, for now, separated. In those circumstances it’s always good if couples can find a common interest to bring them closer together and, fortunately, the Claybourne-Jaymeses are united by their shared disdain for orders of court.

Rayna first: the fact that Older Girl has officially been emancipated isn’t going to stop her from interfering – sorry, caring about her daughter. So when Cash arranges a showcase to launch OG’s solo career, with the intent of attracting record company interest, Rayna – on tour in Atlanta – drops her fabulous rhinestoned microphone and heads back to Nashville to watch it. And she also lines up one of her bezzies, the head of some Nashville record label or other, to enter the OG bidding war. It should be said, incidentally, that Juliette provides OG with help which is both more concrete and less underhand by sending Glenn along for any post-showcase negotiations. (Sidebar – everyone kept going on about how amazing it was that the showcase had been organised in a few days. I dunno; I’d have thought that lining up a venue and making a couple of phone calls wouldn’t be too onerous, but I’m not in the biz.)

The main competition for the signature of OG seems to be coming from a record label named Lennox Hill, the very name of which seems to have a Voldemort-like effect on anyone who hears it; people turning white, having panic attacks, and so on. All we find out about Lennox Hill, though, is that it’s based in New York, which I very much hope isn’t being used as a code for something. Anyway, that’s good enough for OG and Cash, and OG signs for them, so desperate is she to get out of Nashville.

Deacon, meantime, is in the middle of an unpleasant bout of self-pity. He tried so hard to be good, he tells an AA meeting. Not hard enough, dude. Not hard enough. Eventually some tough love from Scarlett snaps him out of it, to the point where – restraining order be damned – he heads over to The Jeff to kinda sorta apologise to the repellent Frankie, who not only isn’t having it, but tells Deacon that he’s going to be bought out of the bar. Well, that’s enough to have Deacon making cow eyes at a bottle of whisky, but – in the nick of time – Rayna phones him. And, quite honestly, I don’t care what the hell happens to Deacon any more.

The Exes are doing their very best to force themselves into that category as well. Rolling Stone runs its story from last week, which is all about Scarlett, making Gunnar sound like a backing musician. Then she gets offered a separate advertising deal. She knocks it back – it’s all about the band – but Gunnar co-writes a song with Autumn, and Scarlett decides to go for it. Since the inevitable consequence of all this nonsense is two solo careers, I’ve decided to harden my heart to the death of Gunnlett, even if it’s a stupid storyline since they clearly love each other but just won’t behave like adults for five consecutive minutes.

Talking of which: here’s Layla, concerned that her career is going to be stalled by the perception that she’s still the chick from the talent show. So she makes out in a back alley with Avery and – completely by coincidence! – there’s a photographer there, resulting in pics of Layla and Juliette Barnes’s babydaddy hitting the tabloids. Avery – understandably – isn’t happy, so Layla sulks, and Avery runs after her. It’s entirely obvious, though, that Layla tipped off the papparazzi, which means that I was fooled last week by the new, responsible, mature Layla. As was Avery, so far at least, although there are signs that Glenn’s starting to work it out.

Juliette, of course, is heartbroken when she sees photos of Avery and Layla together, so pounces on her Cline! co-star Noah West when he comes within twenty yards of her. Then Avery finds out about that, and he’s upset and… either you need to get back together, guys, or you need boundaries, but make your minds up, OK?

And Will heads home for his mother’s funeral, to the father who hates him and the small town which fuels the hate. The only glimmer of hope is that Will’s father, eventually, demands more tolerance from a local redneck who throws a homophobic slur at Will. Meantime, Luke deals with (his CEO?) Ken’s more elegantly-phrased bigotry by sacking him, claiming that he, Luke, is on “the right side of history”, which for sure he is. Half a good episode, and half an annoying one.