Here at EW, Fall TV Wish List is a new weekly series in which our TV critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen weigh in on what they hope the coming season will bring for some of their favorite shows. Today: ABC’s Nashville, which premieres its second season on Sept. 25.
WHERE WE LEFT OFF
Not much happened in the season finale—just a car crash, a funeral, a marriage proposal, a paternity test surprise, a sex tape scandal, a blackmail attempt, a pregnancy confession, and a spectacular, puking-into-potted-plants-after-13-years-of-sobriety whiskey bender. Oh, and Brad Paisley performed on the CMAs! Whew! To recap: Deacon (Charles Esten) learned that he shared DNA with Maddie (Lennon Stella), cashed in his AA tokens, and rolled his SUV with Rayna (Connie Britton) inside. (DNA + AA + SUV = WTF?) Gunnar (Sam Palladio) got down on one knee for Scarlett (Clare Bowen). Peggy (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) told Teddy (Eric Close) that she’s having his baby. And Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) buried her mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), who killed herself to save her daughter from blackmail and a leaked sex tape. (Long story.) It couldn’t get soapier if Jolene had risen from her coffin to play the theme song from All My Children on her ukulele.
WHAT I LOVED ABOUT LAST SEASON
Juliette might’ve been the biggest caricature on this show—everything about her was oversized, from her voice to her temper to her hair—but Panettiere’s performance couldn’t have been more natural. When Jolene fell off the wagon at Deacon’s party, Panettiere could’ve launched herself into a full-blown, fake-eyelash-glue-smearing, carefully-manicured-fist-shaking, I’ll-take-that-Emmy-now-thank-you! breakdown. Instead, she played it so cool, it was chilling, especially when she admitted, without an ounce of self-pity, “I wanted my mother to die.” During the finale, she proved that she is to crying what Tyra Banks is to “smizing”: she can do it in a billion different ways, whether it’s leaning-over-mama’s-casket weeping, or I’d-just-like-to-thank-God–for-this-CMA-award tear-wiping, or simply getting choked up while singing the saddest song. I also couldn’t get enough of the so-wrong-it’s-right chemistry between Rayna and Deacon, which deserves a Merchant Ivory award for sexiest repressed romance ever. (Second place goes to that scruffy indie-rock producer and the hot hotel-room tryst where Rayna had one of those look-yourself-in-the-bathroom-mirror moments of shame.) And closeted country singer Will (Chris Carmack) was the perfect excuse to get into the industry side of things that Nashville has largely ignored. His willingness to sleep with anyone to get to the top might’ve felt like an old trope, but Carmack had just enough cowboy charm to make it work.
WHAT I WASN’T CRAZY ABOUT
Scarlett’s unrelenting, golly-gee-whippersnappers naiveté. (Stand up for yourself, girl!) The Fake Tim Tebow storyline. And the fact that so many things just didn’t make sense. Why would Jolene think that killing herself was the only option for saving Juliette? Yes, having your sex tape leak would be bad, but losing your mother and your freakshow ex-boyfriend (who also happens to be your mother’s freakshow sobriety coach) in a murder-suicide that could leak to the tabloids—wouldn’t that be so much worse? Also, are we really supposed to believe that Dante (Jay Hernandez) only made one copy of that sex tape, because he was such an honest guy? And why did Gunnar have to choose between stealing his late brother’s back story and writing his own tepid lyrics? The guy had a handsome brother who died before he had the chance to show the world how talented he was. That kind of story sells records in Nashville! If Gunnar just explained to fans that he was covering his brother’s music, he would have a billion-dollar record deal by now.
WHAT I’M HOPING FOR NEXT SEASON
According to ABC’s entertainment president Paul Lee, the rivalry between Rayna and Juliette will “really come to a head” this season. That’s disappointing, because the whole catfight thing is the weakest storyline on the show, and maybe a little sexist. If these characters were more like Tim McGraw and Hunter Hayes (and less like Faith Hill and Mean Taylor Swift), I can’t imagine that they’d spend all season worrying about who’s more famous and/or more attractive to session guitarists. They’d just team up for a Kings of Country tour and rake in the dollars on beer koozie merch. Far more promising is the idea that Rayna will have new love interests: Oliver Hudson will play a “bad boy businessman” who wants to “shake things up in Nashville.” And then there’s Luke, who sings and plays guitar and may or may not be a superstar. Of course, none of them should overshadow Deacon. I’d love to watch him getting closer to Maddie, and maybe understanding Rayna better in the process. Other suggestions? Kill off the ever-tedious Lamar (Powers Boothe). Let Scarlett prove she’s stronger than her sexy baby voice suggests. And with Maddie poised to become an even bigger player this season, give us more of those sweet Lumineers covers that had Rayna clutching at her gold locket—and maybe a certain TV critic, too.
Melissa Maerz on Twitter: @MsMelissaMaerz