When bad TV is actually good: Nashville and the opposite of hate-watching
Sometimes there’s nothing better after a hard day of work (not to mention attempting to fend off an existential crisis brought on by the latest fresh hell from the news cycle) than sitting down and watching an episode of bad TV. Of course, “bad” means different things to different viewers, so allow me to specify: There are shows that are failures — comedies that aren’t funny, dramas that don’t elicit any emotion — and then there are shows that absolutely should not work… yet somehow, they do. Maybe the premise is wobbly. Maybe the characters have no common sense. Maybe the writers think it’s a good idea to poison Uma Thurman’s character with a kale smoothie. Whatever the problem(s), some “bad” shows refuse to accept that label — they somehow push past the barriers of mediocrity and coax you into caring about their characters, their story lines, their mid-season finale cliffhangers. Those, dear readers, are bad shows worth celebrating. So let’s take a minute to celebrate the best bad show on TV right now: Nashville.
First, though, a caveat: It’s hard to admit that you like watching something that is, on paper, objectively ridiculous. The classic example is NBC’s short-lived Broadway soap opera Smash: An average of around 6 million people watched season 1, but because everything about the show was so patently absurd (Dueling Marilyn Monroes! Overblown musical numbers about baseball! Julia’s scarves!) viewers felt ashamed about enjoying it. From sentiments like those, the term “hate-watching” was born — as though watching something out of spite was somehow less embarrassing than watching something silly because it entertains you.
In no way am I talking about hate-watching Nashville — I have love-watched this show since its premiere in 2012, when it began as an aspiring prestige serial about two country superstars balancing fame, family, and the politics of the Nashville music industry. I’m also not saying that Nashville has ever truly been a “quality” show: A creatively rocky first season (which included a pre-premiere showrunner change) led to some narrative trial-and-error, and by the end of season 2, the show began moving away from its grounded premise and floating higher and higher into the ether of soap opera nuttiness. Now in Season 6, our heroine Juliette Barnes — a one-time megastar who has already endured addiction, postpartum depression, a plane crash, temporary paralysis, an even-more-temporary religious awakening, and recovered memories of sexual abuse — has fled to live with a cult in Bolivia. Openly gay singer Will Lexington is coping with a bad breakup by abusing steroids, while sensitive singer-songwriter Scarlett has abandoned music altogether to take up an apprenticeship at an equine therapy camp that works with troubled kids.
Sounds preposterous, right? It is! But what makes Nashville so lovably ludicrous are the characters. Though some of them have gone through some extreme personality changes over the years (remember when Avery was a jealous jerk?), Nashville’s key figures remain, at their core, relatable. Poor Avery, the long-suffering spouse who weathers one Juliette crisis after another, all along wondering if he’ll ever be in charge of his own life again. And Gunnar — annoying, adorable, clingy Gunnar — keeps falling too hard, too fast for any woman who flirts in his direction because he’s too damn afraid to be alone. Most importantly there’s Deacon, a flawed father who struggles every day to do what’s best for his girls — and picks himself up every time he fails, which is often. (Did I mention Nashville has the best male criers on TV? Give it up for Charles Esten and Jonathan Jackson, y’all.) However wacky the storylines become, Nashville provides us with a comfortable weekly ritual of watching, worrying, and then waiting for that wave of relief when everything turns out all right.
At a time when even mindless entertainment like Celebrity Big Brother is marred by politics, I’m grateful for the soothing silliness of Nashville.Now, just bring Juliette back from Bolivia, okay? Cadence needs her.