Thursday, August 22

TV review: Season five premiere of ‘Nashville’

(Courtesy of Mark Levine/CMT)

(Courtesy of Mark Levine/CMT)

"Nashville" Created by Callie Khouri Thursdays on CMT

Don’t put dirt on “Nashville’s” grave just yet.

ABC announced in May 2016 that the country music show, which follows the daily highs and lows of Nashville’s singer-songwriter community, would not be renewed for a fifth season. Reactions from viewers who stuck with the program through its increasingly laughable writing and desperate plot lines ranged from devastated to relieved – until Country Music Television exhumed its rotting carcass.

The two-episode premiere of the fifth season aired Jan. 5 – this time on CMT instead of ABC – and the novelty stopped there. Instead of using the new network as an opportunity for a fresh start, season five’s plot picked up right where season four’s finale left off, as did its flat characters and hollow conversations. The premiere’s limited redeeming qualities came from its music – the only facet of the show that has been dependably decent since the pilot episode, and that will hopefully continue its reliability in the next episode Thursday.

Episode one, titled “The Wayfaring Passenger,” began with relative intrigue, thanks to season four’s cliff-hanger finale that foreshadowed the crash-landing of a plane carrying country superstar Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). But of course, the unsinkable Juliette survived the crash, and the momentum from season four’s mysterious ending came to a halt.

Post-plane crash, the show’s already-thinning plot hardly advanced over the course of two full-length episodes. Even after her near-death experience, Juliette comes away from the crash just as insufferably angry and demanding as before. Her hot-tempered snaps at her husband Avery (Jonathan Jackson) and her ungrateful abuse of her assistant Emily (Kourtney Hansen) are tired and familiar.

While Juliette’s incessant anguish does give Panettiere the chance to showcase an impressively endless repertoire of rage – from cocking an eyebrow and flaring her nostrils to screaming through tears and gritted teeth – her undying cycle of self-pity and self-loathing has grown stale. A glimpse of the old, delightfully driven Juliette would be a welcome change of pace, but the writers seem to have forgotten she exists. And Juliette is just one of many characters in need of a revamp.

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Arguably the most dramatic storyline from the previous season follows Maddie (Lennon Stella), the musically gifted but bratty daughter of Nashville royalty Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) and Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten). Toward the end of the season, Maddie ran away from home and emancipated herself from her mother, who would not let her become a full-time recording artist.

By the end of season four, Maddie had returned home, shaken and seemingly matured after her father saved her from attempted rape by a music mogul. But come season five, Maddie might as well have not had the core-rattling experience at all.

Instead of using Maddie’s encounter with sexual assault as a launching-off point for a deeper insight into her character, the season five writing team decided to make her as selfish and brooding as ever. Failing to complicate Maddie beyond her role as the angsty teen is a disservice both to Lennon Stella’s character and Lennon Stella herself, who has shown acting promise in previous episodes by conveying subtle emotions with her slight facial expressions and sobbing on cue.

Sadly, Maddie’s emotional range in the premiere peaked when she yelled at her equally talented sister Daphne (Maisy Stella) over her musical autonomy (“That’s my song!”). But Maddie’s familiar mistreatment of her little sister did give way to “Your Best,” a beautiful make-up duet that capitalized on the on- and off-screen sisters’ harmonizing abilities.

Much of the premiere followed the same format – empty conversations between underdeveloped characters followed by well-written, heartwarming duets.

“All of Me,” a duet between on-and-off couple and singer-songwriting duo Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Scarlett (Clare Bowen), attempted to bring back the magic of previous standout songs like “If I Didn’t Know Better” and “Fade Into You” from when their relationship was still fresh. But the jealous bickering leading up to the number served no purpose other than to fill the show’s outrageously large time slot.

The season five premiere of “Nashville” was like a bag of Doritos – three quarters of air with just enough content at the bottom to keep you wanting more.

[Related: Missed reviews of 2016: ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘Moana,’ ‘Joanne’]

The teaser for Thursday’s new episode showed potential – a possible romance with a street performer for Maddie and a new diva guest star (Bridgit Mendler) who will hopefully humanize the show’s regular drama queens by contrast.

As someone who has been a loyal follower of “Nashville” since the simple days of war between Rayna and Juliette, I have hope that the intrigue of the show’s once-immersive story lines can be salvaged. But if the upcoming episode fails to capitalize on the potentially new plot direction, I suggest only keeping up with the soundtrack.

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Carras is an A&E senior staff writer. She was previously the assistant editor for the Theater Film and Television beat of A&E.

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  • Ian

    I’m so disappointed. The move to CMT was supposed to be a promise of the show becoming “less of a soap and more of a drama,” but these new showrunners don’t seem to know what the difference is. It’s not a matter of slowing the pace and being less “extreme”, it’s a matter of better story and character development. So much thought and feeling felt like went into the earlier seasons, but now the only thing that isn’t being phoned in as soap tropes are, is the music.

    And now I hate Will. It’s gotten worse, not better or improved at all.