I remember the pilot trailer like it was yesterday: seasoned country diva Rayna Jaymes (Britton) has to play industry chess to keep from being put to pasture by the latest "it" girl, Juliette Barnes (Panettiere). Political scandal, and messy familial and romantic entanglements are around the corner. The music nerd, soap-opera lover and Panettiere fan-girl in me was sold; you didn't have to tell me twice to tune in. The press swore it was a parallel to Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift; that still makes me laugh hysterically. They weren't going off anything but the stars' hair color. The vehicle was a better version of Empire (2015), before there was such a thing (ironically, Empire supporting actress Kaitlin Doubleday would join the cast in season five).The narratives were more evenly paced, grounded and detailed, including the business commentary (I especially appreciated the annotations on sexism). As for the weekly soundtrack? Oh my goodness, it was infinitely superior (beneath my commentary is a list of my favorite songs). First-rate production and thoughtful lyricism prevented it from sounding 'made for television.' The pulse of "Music City" authentically beat through, as the content was crafted by local talent (it was sung by the cast). With storytelling being country's supreme trait, the songs exquisitely accented the layered plot lines and characters. Let's delve into all of it, shall we?
Of Nashville's fictional figures, Juliette, Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) and Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) are my top three loves.
Juliette is completely intoxicating, with her sass, irrepressibility and how much of a living train-wreck she can be. Dissecting the complexities of her psyche can become an obsessive compulsion. She's a great example of what meets the eye isn't always the whole story. On the surface, she's a destructive narcissist, but it's not that simple. Having to survive successive traumas (ex. a manipulative mother who struggled with substance abuse, sexually predatory record executives) she developed a self-loathing and maladaptive preservation skills. She doesn't know how to identify or treat something of value (ex. her career, her caring husband) because she's hardly had that. Between her history and many nagging naysayers, you want to see her win (especially because her gloating victory laps are a thing of beauty). Roles like this can be difficult to write for. The question of how to evolve them without making them a 'bore' gets raised. A natural, built-in transition was available for Juliette, but the writers still strangely lost her in seasons five and six. She had post-partum depression, went to rehab, was inadvertently involved in her manager's death (i.e. Jeff Fordham) and was in a plane crash by the end of season four. Recovering from these events (ex. therapy, healing, PTSD, relapse) to come out a better person would've lasted to now. Instead, they had her accusing people of man-stealing, snatching songs from teenagers and accidentally joining a cult. Further, her background was unnecessarily revised to incorporate her mother, Jolene, allowing someone to rape her for money. This nullified the resolve brought by Jolene's sacrificial suicide, after she murdered Juliette's extortionist. The main 'JB' scenario I hated during the ABC run was her sleeping with Jeff. He did everything he could to control/destroy her career, and said she was "trailer trash covered in rhinestones." She'd fight someone like him tooth and nail. She'd never let him in her pants; it wasn't true to the character.
Deacon was the other tortured soul on canvas. He too sprouted from a hard knock life, and inherited his abusive father's battle with the bottle. It hindered his career and "love for the ages" relationship with Rayna for many years. Often, alcoholics are diabolized in media and their afflictions are depicted as choice-based. Much like the persona of Jack Pearson on NBC's This is Us, the portrayal of Deacon Claybourne humanized the addict. It showed crapulence for the ruling illness it is, and how it has a life of its own. To do this, clear division was made between Deacon and his demons. Inherently, he's a gentle and benevolent spirit you can't help but be enamored with. When alcoholism pulls him out of body, he's frigid and tempestuous. The tangibility of his duality is substantially in credit to Esten. His elegant, intricate and arresting work takes you inside each of his alter-ego's emotions. Him shedding a single tear will leave you bawling on the floor. I particularly enjoyed his channeling through his eyes and voice. Those piercing baby blues can be steely, just as easily as they can make you feel overcome with serenity. His vocal cadence is sonorous in a moment of decisiveness or seduction. It's swinging in a congenial exchange, hoarse and howling at a breaking point. Esten's performances are so gripping, you wonder where he's been this whole time. I tell ya', he's Hollywood's best kept secret.
Avery underwent quite the transformation himself. Early on, he was a conceited artist who was very demeaning to his then-girlfriend, Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen). He was also dismissive of her own musical desires. I couldn't stand him, haha. A swift and humiliating fall from the cusp of fame, to being a roadie humbled him. Since then, he's blossomed into a compassionate and loyal family-man and friend, full of sage advice. I've followed Jackson from his days as Lucky Spencer on ABC's General Hospital. An incredibly masterly and palpable actor, it's no shock he has five Daytime Emmys. He goes for the jugular in his scenes, with a corporeal and uninhibited approach. You'll be on the edge of your seat, clutching your pearls, sobbing, or all three. In any event, you'll be invested.
Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio) propped himself as the answer to Scarlett's prayers. He encouraged her singing and seemed to be kinder than Avery. The only difference was his mistreatment was covert. That's why I didn't care for him; he was a pretend nice guy. He was self-serving and often demanding of Scarlett, disrespecting her space and feelings. He'd project blame, and rarely took responsibility for his actions. I was most interested in and sympathetic towards him during his drama with Kiley Brenner (Spy Kids' Alexa Penavega). Kiley was his troubled hometown friend, who believed her young son was his. She skipped town, leaving him the primary parent. This put a strain on his pairing with Zoey Dalton (Scarlett's best friend *shakes head*). Gunnar's growing attachment to the boy matured him. He later lost custody when he learned he wasn't the actual father. His older brother Jason raped Kiley, thus conceiving the child. It was all pretty intense and sad. Gunnar reverted to his vexatious ways, and I reverted to eye-rolling, haha.
Scarlett's entire arc was about her finding her inner fire, confidence and independence. Her sweet, nurturing and docile nature was taken advantage of by her mother and every man in her life. Beverly O'Connor was a bitter and spiteful woman, who punished her loved ones for her individual misfortunes. Scarlett couldn't be a child, for Beverley's chaos, neglect and abuse (talk about sins of the father; Beverley is Deacon's sister). She also resented Scarlett for 'making it' in Nashville, when she couldn't. In adulthood, Scarlett suffered a mental breakdown on stage, when she was already diffident about her gift. She began the work of trying to reckon with her past and believe in herself creatively. She'd be infringed upon in each relationship, but would emerge wiser and more assertive. She goes with her gut now, but still cowers at the concept of performing. It appears that will be rectified by the series finale. I only wish the themes of her trajectory were emphasized harder and dealt with quicker. She's spent most of the current season utilizing her altruism at a therapeutic horse ranch. She's befriended a former soldier who's also quit music. His influence has her penning songs again. Her taking off solo is significant and I like where it's headed, but the interim has been anything but fascinating. Sidebar: how adorable is her whistling southern accent? It's really on point for an actress from Australia, haha.
Maddie and Daphne (Lennon and Maisy Stella) had to contend with more than their little hearts could handle, thanks to their parents. Deacon slogged with sobriety, Teddy was imprisoned for embezzlement and prostitution, and several of Rayna's choices backfired in an unanticipated way. That's just the short-list. You pitied the girls, but they'd test your solicitude. They'd talk back, act out and exacerbate actively challenging situations. Their reactive behavior was commensurate with their youth, but they'd sometimes rebel without a cause. Maddie conjured hell and high water (and interrupted 'Deyna's' newly wedded bliss) with an emancipation suit in season four. She filed simply because Rayna wouldn't let her record an album until her 18th birthday. Can we say "certifiably entitled and bratty?" The family reconciled, but they walked on eggshells with Maddie, for fear she'd bolt again at the slightest upset. 'Deyna' was afraid to parent or discipline her; Daphne tolerated her snippiness. She'd ache every time Maddie snubbed the idea of partnering with her professionally. Unfortunately, there weren't many Daphne-focused storylines. In the wake of losing her mother, she experienced a bout of depression. She had suicidal thoughts, was underperforming at school and started hanging with the wrong crowd. It was a promising angle, but it was hurriedly brushed over. The Stella's captivated me on sight. I was in awe of how their talent exceeded their years. Not to mention, they were precious. I recently saw a "then and now" photo-set of them. It dawned on me I've literally watched them grow up (Lennon from age 13-18; Maisy 9-14). It's been a privilege to a have a front-row seat to their progression as singers and actresses.
Rayna was, in every sense of the word, the center of Nashville's universe. Almost every character and plot could be linked to her. This opened the show up to disaster and taught an important lesson about structuring, but we'll get to that. Rayna was what I call an "anchoring lead:" fully formed, principled, formidable, shrewd, and a compass to everyone in their circle. There were no identity crises for her; she knew who she was and what she stood for. She couldn't be cozened or coerced. Put an obstruction in front of her, and she'd find her way around it. Poke the Mama Bear, and you'd regret it. Most admired Rayna, relied on her or sought her approval. I respected her presence, but thought she was a tad self-righteous. Don't '@' me, haha.
Connie Britton's Exit & Unfinished Business
When Britton exited, fans' emotions were understandably high. Some were incensed with the writers for killing the character (what was the alternative? Recasting in primetime isn't a thing), others with the actress. According to her interviews and those with producer Marshall Herskovitz, she had been fatigued in her role for a while. She wanted to leave as soon as possible. The show-runners thought it was best for Rayna to die mid-season five. The Nashies were utterly blindsided; Britton implied rumors of her departure were false on two occasions. My grievances lied with her. It appeared she went into the CMT revival disengaged, and had no intention of helping it stabilize first. She could've done one more season. It would've given the team time to prepare the fans, realign Nashville's balance, and convert the other characters into burgeoning 'anchors.' As it stood, Juliette wasn't in a position to steer because her crux was being Rayna's foil. Deacon was muddled, and his whole life was loving Rayna. The rest were so fixed in their supporting stations, they weren't logical forerunning options.
Regardless of what some may say, any failures in season six weren't because Rayna was gone (miraculously, that wasn't an annihilating blow). It was due to veering from season 5 points, in favor of mundane and irrelevant narratives. For example, Maddie didn't trek a rocky road singing. She was chasing a Justin Bieber imitation, Jonah Ford (my dad and I had lots of colorful nicknames for him, like 'Justin Jonas'). One of the most notable redirections was away from the Zach tribulation. It abruptly ended, when it could've been fleshed out and continued to stimulate us.
There were a lot of fragmentary, Zach-ish instances. I refer to them as 'drive-bys.' It occurred so much, it was a running gag with my Nashie pals and I. Take Frankie and Cash Gray. Frankie was Deacon's sponsor and business associate. Frankie relapsed, got jealous of Deacon and was bent on sabotaging him for some reason. Cash, Frankie's daughter, had a creepy infatuation with Maddie. She appointed herself Maddie's manager, turned the child against her family, and spearheaded the emancipation suit. Minor context was given for the Gray's animosity and determination. We didn't get the satisfaction of seeing them pay for their misdeeds either. Maddie dissolved her relationship with Cash after a frightening party incident. Cash left Maddie unattended, and an executive known for sexually assaulting women was dangerously close. This wasn't enough for me. I wanted Cash to get caught red-handed doing something dirty, and Maddie realize she was a brainwashing snake. I wanted to see Maddie grovel to her parents as well, haha. The Gray's stint was egregiously abbreviated and underdone. In season five, Maddie encountered yet another inappropriate adult: Clayton Carter. He was in his 20's, but carried on a flirtationship with the underage Maddie. He also had bipolar disorder and never took his medication. Neither of these aspects were scrupulously explored. Maddie and Clayton's culture clash (he was low-income and black) sent him driving into the sunset...literally.
These next items are peripheral, but I've recurrently thought about them:
--When Rayna broke off her engagement to Luke Wheeler, they chiefly discussed Deacon. Nothing about Luke being an envious, fame-whoring man-child? Haha.
--Maddie spent a ridiculous amount of time with Clayton while Rayna was in the hospital. She missed her mama's last moments of consciousness. Why didn't they talk about that??
--Juliette mentioned managing Maddie, but it never came to fruition. What a wasted plot opportunity.
--I hate they canned the political storylines (they were so juicy!), and got rid of Lamar and Teddy. Lamar was deliciously diabolical.
-Speaking of, why did they keep cutting the villains? Lamar, Jeff, Layla...all great antagonists.
-'Deyna' was in the middle of a joint album about their journey when Rayna passed. It's too bad we didn't see the public's reaction to it.
The Music (My Favorite Songs!!)
Nashville's endearing soundtrack revitalized my interest in country after a long absence. I was mesmerized by its subtle, yet passionate quality. Listening to it would bring me tranquility and joy when I needed it most. I'll tell you now that most of the entries on this list are by the Stellas, Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio. The duos are known for their dulcet harmonies, unmistakable chemistry and distinct voices. Lennon's prepossessing and wispy tone is complemented by Maisy's fuller, soulful one (I can see her doing R&B, honestly). Their tunes are usually sentimental and airy. I disliked Scarlett and Gunnar as a couple, but I'd take The Exes anytime (that was a brilliant band name). Their odes reflect their smoldering and contentious energy. They're either sorrowful, sexy or romantic (same for their individual songs). Deacon and Rayna's duets are similar. Rayna's bits are generally fun and light. Deacon's are traditional, and flatter Esten's titillating bass. Carmack and Jackson's jams remind us that rock is country's cousin. Juliette's joints are as spicy and kickin' as she is. The music is indubitably what I'll miss most about Nashville.
1.Boys & Buses- Hayden Panettiere
Mama said, "Boys and buses got a lot in common; they both pick up speed when you try to stop 'em. You could waste your breath, you could scream and cuss 'em, but there's no use chasing after boys and buses." Mama knows best. Excellent advice, haha.
2.Fade Into You- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
3.Ho Hey-The Stellas
4.If I Didn't Know Better- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
This one's pure fire. I love how it's a clear expression of lust, but the protagonist is still keeping composure. "If I didn't know better, I'd follow you up the stairs...but damn it, I do." #WhenWisdomGetsInTheWay
5.No One Will Ever Love You- Connie Britton & Charles Esten
This sealed the deal for the audience that Rayna and Deacon were very much still carrying a torch for each other.
6.Telescope- The Stellas
7.Wrong Song- Connie Britton & Hayden Panettiere
This slamming, girl-power breakup track rejects the old country tropes, where women forgive and forget. "If you're looking for one more chance, a little 'stand by your man,' you've got the wrong song!"
8.A Life That's Good- The Stellas
This is Nashville's quintessential theme; it's what the series (and daily life) is all about. It speaks of hoping there are loving arms to fall into when dreams get deferred and all else falls through. A Deacon original, Maddie learned this song after discovering he was her father. She, Daphne and Deacon sung it to Ranya minutes before she took her last breath.
9.Ball & Chain- Connie Britton & Will Chase
10.Believing- Charles Esten & The Stellas
11.Black Roses- Clare Bowen
This one's unsettling, dark....and totally enchanting. Scarlett wrote this to "honor" her Mommy Dearest. Every lyric invokes a somber image, from crumbling petals, to a burning house. Its faint drum rattles are evocative of a soldier's march, and the battlefield she sings about: "I can see your eyes staring into mine, but it's a battlefield and you're on the other side."
12.Come Find Me- Clare Bowen
13.Don't Put Dirt on My Grave Just Yet- Hayden Panettiere
Juliette Barnes summed up in a song, ladies and gentlemen. Performed after her latest scandal, she put everyone on notice: never count her out. Ever. What better selection for her Opry induction? It gets me pumped up every time.
People are so reckless and casual with love and its declarations. It irks me when people say "this is the love of my life" and they move with such grandiosity, as if they didn't do it with the last person. This track highlights how folks copy and paste behavior, and never learn a thing.
15.He Ain't Gonna Change- Connie Britton & Hayden Panettiere
16.Hypnotizing (Acoustic)- Hayden Panettiere
17.I Ain't Leavin' Without Your Love-Sam Palladio, Jonathan Jackson & Chaley Rose
18.It Ain't Yours to Throw Away- Sam Palladio
Gunnar showed sincere love for Scarlett in this moment, and his faith in her talent. He was trying to convince her that her endowments were bigger than she was, and they shouldn't be spoiled. I listen to this every time I get discouraged in my own endeavors.
19.Tell Me (Acoustic)-Aubrey Peeples
20.This Love Ain't Big Enough- Hayden Panettiere
This witty ditty uses a western shoot-out as a metaphor for warring lovers. Genius. The production mirrors that of cowboy film score, solidifying the premise.
21.This Time- Connie Britton
One of the few times we saw a music video on Nashville, it was for this bouncy cut that asked some valid relationship questions. "Why can't we keep it on the sweet side? See how it feels to take a slow ride this time?...You don't need to meet my mama, you don't need the key to my house." Rayna and Scarlett looked smokin' hot in the visual, too. The pounding piano, yowling harmonica and ripping guitars are honky tonk verified.
22.This Town- Clare Bowen & Charles Esten
23.Trouble Is-Hayden Panettiere
24.You're The Kind of Trouble- Charles Esten
They say heartbreak makes for the best music. After Will revealed he was gay, Layla went from an unimaginative pop-country tart, to an extraordinary songwriter. It was kind of surprising she was so hurt; guess she genuinely loved the guy, haha. Her desolation is so lucidly conveyed here.
26.Borrow My Heart-Jonathan Jackson, Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
27.Can't Help My Heart-Will Chase
28.Gasoline & Matches- Connie Britton & Laura Benati
"I like my country rockin', how about you?"-Eric Church. Britton and Benati's breathy, 'come-hither' vocals are definitely matches to the band's gasoline.
29.Hold You in My Arms- Hayden Panettiere & Jonathan Jackson
30.If I Drink This Beer-Will Chase
Just when I thought Luke Wheeler couldn't be more of a whining wuss, he publicly lashed out at Rayna for dumping him. At least he made some infectious, relatable stuff when he Taylor Swift'd her.
31.If Your Heart Can Handle It-Chris Carmack & Aubrey Peeples
32.I've Got You & You've Got Me- The Stellas
33.I Will Never Let You Know- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
Anyone who's suffered in silence and/or left things unsaid would be struck by this.
34.Longer- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
35.Mississippi Flood-Hayden Panettiere
Juliette was in need of a comeback, so she did a very Juliette thing: gave an impromptu concert on a business roof without a permit. She got the press she wanted and was feeling so triumphant, she had steamy elevator sex with Avery. Nashville iconic. Its sinister feel gets it across that "Juliette Barnes is coming for you," haha.
36.One by One- Hayden Panettiere & Jonathan Jackson
37.Sad Song-Laura Benati
38.We Got a Love- The Stellas
39.Can't Stop a Heart- Aubrey Peeples
40.All We Ever Wanted- The Stellas
41.Don't Make 'Em Like You No More-Riley Smith
42.Hand to Hold- Clare Bowen & Charles Esten
43.Makes No Sense at All- Aubrey Peeples
44.Rockin' & Rollin'- The Stellas
45.The Book- Aubrey Peeples
46.The Rubble- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
Scarlett's ferocity would appear more quickly in her music than in her life. Sometimes, you'd see or hear her perform and ask, "Who the hell was that, and can we keep her?!"
47.This Old Guitar-Jeananne Goossen
In my opinion, this is one of the finest cuts from a 'drive-by' character. Goossen played Vita Martin, a homeless woman with unforgettable chops. Rayna tried to sign her and offer other opportunities, by Vita vanished. "This Old Guitar" was her audition piece. Her steady and anguished delivery affixes you.
48.Too Far From You- Aubrey Peeples
Layla exasperated me, but I'd listen to Aubrey Peeples for hours. Her affecting, bluesy voice was a welcomed anomaly on Nashville. This flowed like a church hymn, with its heaving oscillations. The feathery, stacked vocals are gorgeous.
49.Speak to Me- Clare Bowen
50.Swept Away-Lennon Stella
The Stella's are such convincing performers. They sell the tragedy in their songs like they've lived every word. Lennon makes me borderline weepy with "Swept Away." Her wailing projections at the bridge are stilling.
51.When The Right One Comes Along (Strings Wedding Version)- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
This was already splendid when it first appeared in season one. The strings arrangement for 'Deyna's' wedding elevated it from "pretty" to "heavenly."
52.As the Crow Flies- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
53.Back Again- The Stellas
54.Can't Remember Never Loving You- Connie Britton & Charles Esten
55.Clockwork- The Stellas
56.Coat of Pain-Kaitlin Doubleday
A superb and skillful presentation. Doubleday maintains vocal prowess, while sounding weary and tousled. She really brings the agony and desperation in the lyrics to life.
57.Forever- Clare Bowen
The union of rosy and saccharine lyrics to plaintive music/vocal is entrancing. You wonder if its meaning is more ominous than the content would suggest. Bowen's delicate execution is transporting.
58.Good Man-Chris Carmack
59.Good Rain or Jesus- Charles Esten
Deacon did this powerful, gospel-tinged track at the Grand Ole' Opry. It was one of his first solo concerts. In the months before, he was straining to hold it together. He wanted to be strong for Maddie and Daphne, do well at Highway 65, and somehow patch up his bleeding heart. Maddie reassured him that Rayna would be proud of how he fared. Comparing his yearning for Rayna to waiting on a "good rain or Jesus to come down," Deacon released his despair on the stage.
60.In Love- The Stellas
61.Learning How to Lose You-Kaitlin Doubleday
62.Rose & Thorn- Jonathan Jackson
63.Sanctuary- The Stellas & Charles Esten
Breathtakingly beautiful, this one's about being someone's place of peace. Juliette was supposed to do it at an award show tribute to Rayna. She passed the mic on to Maddie, who couldn't get through it. Once Daphne and Deacon joined her to finish it, I was crying like a baby. It still does something to me.
I would call this Nashville's first foray into straight pop. It's shadowy, magnetic and an absolute bop! I promise I wasn't trying to rhyme, haha. Perhaps it's a teaser of what Lennon has coming.
65.Simple as That- Charles Esten
66.The Hell of it is- Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
Scarlett and Gunnar face-off on this sweltering, escalating and rip-roaring "hate that I love you" bit.
67.Tennis Shoes- The Stellas
Oddly enough, Maddie and Daphne didn't have any songs about their sister dynamic...until this. Catchy and tender, the big dog is telling the little dog to learn from its mistakes.
69.Won't Back Down- Jonathan Jackson
70.Wrong Kind of Right-Rhiannon Giddens
Country meets blues and gospel, and takes us from Nashville to Memphis. Giddens' vocals are delectable and sultry.
71.You're Mine- Connie Britton, Charles Esten, The Stellas, Hayden Panettiere, Jonathan Jackson, Chris Carmack, Clare Bowen & Sam Palladio
It took Rayna's death to get all the characters on the same track? Really?! The group came together to help Deacon finish his and Rayna's collaborative album.
72. Come and Find Me-Maisy Stella
By season six, Daphne's father was in prison, her mother was dead, and her sister was leaving the nest. Deacon dating again was the last, isolating straw. She went to her guitar and wrote "Come and Find Me." She sings of feeling left behind, and like a former shell of herself. Maisy's forlorn vocals rend you.
73. Dear Fear-Maisy Stella
Welp, that's all folks. If you've reached this sentence, thank you. I know it was a long article. Silly me for thinking I could choose just 20 or 30 songs....or summarize six years in a few paragraphs. Wow, six years. That's a darn good run, I suppose. All the bumps in the road makes it feel like three. To the Nashies, please keep in touch. To the cast and crew of Nashville, thank you for your dedication and showing the fans soooo much love (especially you, Ed Amatrudo). Happy trails to you until we meet again.