For a network drama set to pensive, heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter tunes, ABC’s Nashville is paced more like a Girl Talk record than a slow-burning country ballad. The first 10 minutes of last night’s Season Two premiere – a dizzying onslaught of minute-or-less expositive scenes rehashing the central characters’ myriad demons and conflicts – played like an extended trailer that was frustratingly short on juicy revelations. But delayed gratification and teasing inevitable plot developments have been Nashville’s style from the beginning, and it looks like the show will carry on that tradition this season.
Opening cold into the aftermath of last season’s car-crash cliffhanger finale, we see a drunk, screaming Deacon pull an unconscious Rayna Jaymes from the fiery wreckage. They lived! (Shocker!) Fast forward a few weeks and we find Rayna in a coma, leaving the rest of Music City paralyzed in purgatory. “Sometimes a person’s brain can get a little swollen,” Tandy tells Maddie and Daphne as the Conrad kids keep a bedside vigil. Meanwhile, orange is the new plaid for Deacon, who faces 10 to 30 years in the state pen on a possible manslaughter charge. Wracked with guilt, he erroneously claims he drunkenly drove the car on that ill-fated night.
Because the writers had to find something for Connie Britton to do while her character teeters between life and death, viewers are left with a rather pointless series of flashbacks – shot through a golden-tinted Wonder Years filter in comically soft focus, no doubt an attempt to turn the visual clock back to the Clinton years – chronicling the demise of her rocky relationship with Deacon and rehashing a bunch of well-trod backstory about Maddie’s paternity and Deacon’s battle with the bottle – shit we already know.
But here’s something new: Scarlett said no. Remember, in the finale montage Gunnar was on bended knee and things looked promising for the young lovers. Not so, apparently: both are single now, wallowing in post-breakup sads. At least Scarlett quit her job waitressing at the Bluebird after signing to Rayna’s imprint label. Is that such a smart move? What happens when your A&R rep is comatose, and not just in the way most A&R reps are comatose?
Jail and guilt can change a man and Deacon, a self-imposed prisoner at Shame Spiral Central Booking, is no exception. His current predicament reduces him to an angry shell, transforming him into an insufferable (albeit altruistic) prick who lashes out at anyone who tries to get him out of the hell he’s created for himself, including Scarlett, who shyly approaches Juliette asking for a loan to bail out her uncle. Bad timing, as Jules is still bitterly mourning the death of her junkie mother. She writes off Deacon, saying, “addicts are addicts.”
Maybe Juliette is as pissed at Deacon as the rest of Nashville (where country music fans are holding nightly candlelight Pray for Rayna vigils), blaming him for the wreck. Nope. Actually, Juliette’s album is about to drop and her frustration with the situation (not having the spotlight when she need it most) reverts back to her rivalry with Rayna, who’s greatest hits album is pinned to the top of the charts.
Ever the cunning careerist, Juliette milks public sympathy by taking advantage of the perception that she’s Rayna’s protégé and holds a massive free concert/vigil. Onstage, Jules delivers a gushingly sanctimonious, nauseatingly disingenuous tribute speech leading the attended masses in prayers for the sidelined Queen of Country. Even Jules’ new lead guitarist, Avery, rolls his eyes at the stream of platitudes.
Avery’s already so adapted the role of Jules’ real-talk go-to guy, he has zero hesitation calling her out for having a stage set that’s rife with towering portraits of her, rather than Rayna. He also turns in a scorching solo on Juliette’s performance of a new jam, “This Love Ain’t Big Enough.”
The Avery factor also explains the catty tension between Juliette and Scarlett, who seems in danger of backsliding into the most pathetically shitty relationship since Sid and Nancy. Though I’ve gotta say, the biggest change so far this season is how drastically less hateable Avery is, already. And all took was getting a better haircut and freeing his perfectly chiseled face from the tyranny of the soul patch.
After the concert, Juliette makes a nighttime bedside hospital visit. What started as a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt gets real and Jules becomes the den mother of Music City when she has a heart-to-heart with Maddie, even trading cell phone numbers. It was last night’s only genuinely affecting scene. In fact, Hayden Panettiere pretty much saved this messy episode, which was more of a transition piece tying up last season’s loose ends than a series of flashpoints for stormy, salacious new subplots – even a development like the one suggesting Lamar could be the unindicted murderer of Tandy and Rayna’s mother is shoehorned into the last act as an obligatory afterthought.
Now that writers have cleared out the cobwebs, maybe next week the show will get the ball rolling on some new drama. The Season Two teaser promo running over last night’s ending credits offered a promising declaration — “the rivalries are diva-licious.” Oh snap!