how-to guides

A Simple Guide to Improving Nashville

NASHVILLE -“Why Don’t You Love Me” Photo: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC

Sometimes I can’t tell if Nashville is great or terrible or what. I know that the music is pretty good, though I’m among the world’s least qualified country music critics. I know the hairstyling department is doing a superb job. And whoever’s in charge of finding snap-front, Western-cut, plaid shirts for the guys must be spread thin. But week to week, it’s not clear to me that Nashville has any idea what it’s actually good at, nor does it seem to know how long a show is supposed to take to tell a story. A few suggestions.

No more Peggy, no more politics, and, for God’s sake, end the stupid fake pregnancy story line already.
Raise your hand if you give two farts about Nashville’s mayoral race. See? No one. It is actually not possible to care about it! One of the weirdest parts of the first season of Glee was a protracted fake-pregnancy plotline, with Mr. Schue’s wife (remember her? no?) going so far as to wear a prosthesis and refuse to be touched. Do not retread this territory, Nashville. Teddy cheated on the heroine of the series. Who cares if he gets to be mayor, or if his stupid mistress is lying to him? What’s at stake? What would he or the show lose? Nothing.

The thing where Rayna lost her voice could have gone on a lot longer.
In general, I loathe when stories get dragged out. But this one had legitimate legs! After the car accident at the end of last season, Rayna was severely injured and intubated for a while. Luckily, the show did not drag out the coma story line, but the idea that a singer’s vocal cords could be damaged is a very resonant one. Combine that with, say, Shania Twain’s very famous long-term stage fright, and there’s an actual story in here that means something! Instead, Raina was magically healed by the power of supportive country music fans.

Is Scarlett stupid?
She’s lived in Nashville for what, a year and change? Get off the turnip truck, lady! Learn to lead an adult life! Her constant “Wha? Lil’ ol’ meeeee?” routine is exhausting, and the weird helplessness she displays at her label runs completely counter to what we know about her toughness with Deacon. Scarlett is allegedly ambivalent about a life in the spotlight, but it’s not like she’s pursuing anything else: It’s totally fine not to want to be famous, but then why are you singing at the Bluebird Cafe and signing record contracts? Go to a Meetup for people who want to learn Italian.

Juliette is the best.
probably wouldn’t work as The Juliette Barnes Show, but every character is at his or her most interesting when interacting with her. Even if the show’s not going to give Juliette that much more to do, at least let more characters cross paths with her in any given episode. Juliette has a sense of humor; let her use it.

Give Avery and Gunnar something concrete to do.
The idea that these two are still mooning over the intellectually vacant Scarlett is tedious at best. Their collaborative songwriting is a step in the right direction, but on the whole, the series struggles to find specific, identifiable things for its characters to do. Shows about politics have Election Day. Glee has regionals. High school shows have proms; many shows have weddings; other series have central mysteries. Nashville feels like it’s spinning its wheels, because it is — there’s no narrative momentum at all, no looming danger, no project everyone is working on together.

More songs, better atmospheres.
Last week’s episode closed with Scarlett and Deacon singing a duet, with him plunking on the piano with his accident-damaged hands and her strumming a banjo. The song was gorgeous and sad and appropriate. Weirdly, though, their house was covered in romantic tea candles, which is not the vibe you’d really want for a scene about a niece and uncle.

A Simple Guide to Improving Nashville