Revamped ‘Nashville’ Hits the Right Notes, Most of the Time

The show adds its first transgender player, actor Jen Richards

Connie Britton in Nashville's fifth season.
Connie Britton in Nashville‘s fifth season. Mark Levine courtesy of CMT

Melody and melodrama will continue to intersect as Nashville, the TV series about country music creation, starts a new season, complete with an injection of fresh blood, both in front of and behind the camera.

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In one of the most interesting off screen twists, while the series will continue to be produced by production company ABC Studios, Nashville has left that network and moved to CMT. CMT in a fitting manner, stands for Country Music Television.

Up to this point, CMT hasn’t ventured into scripted fare, instead airing reruns of Reba and Roseanne, with a smattering of music videos thrown into their on-air schedule. So it seems appropriate that a series set in the country music capital of the United States would be the network’s first foray into a narrative drama.

Very smartly, the series has enlisted TV vets Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick as showrunners for the revamped drama.

The duo certainly know their way around a character-centered show having worked on acclaimed series such as Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life and Once and Again. They’ve brought with them Liberty Godshall and Savannah Dooley. Godshall was also a producer on the aforementioned dramas and Dooley was the creator of and a writer on the unique ABC Family drama Huge (and the offspring of Winnie Holzman, a frequent Herschovitz/Zwick collaborator.) Callie Khouri, who created Nashville, and who wrote the classic film Thelma and Louise remains a creative force on the series as well.

So, it seems as though the pedigree of this group assures that the series will head in the right direction going forward. And, through at least two episodes (those available for review), it does.

That’s not so say that the show hits every note exactly right, but just like the methodology needed to create a catchy tune, even the misses are welcome –because they’re all a part of the process.

The bones are all still there – the music, highlighted by the creative struggle, and the relationships — and it’s all sort of messy, but in a good way.

Main super country couple Rayna and Deacon struggle, young parents and musicians Juliet and Avery struggle, and the on-again off-again singing duo Gunnar and Claire struggle – but that’s what makes each episode, and the music, so engaging. It’s the realistic portrayal of all of the ups and downs of coupledom displayed quite accurately as disagreements are tempered with faithfully true conversations and decisions reflective of each pair’s bond.

When Rayna proclaims that, “Some of the best music comes out of the darkest places,” this statement seems like it could be said for this series as well, with just a little tweak – “some of the best TV comes out of the most confusing plots.” As in, while watching the series you may think at times, “Just where is this going?” Then, while not all is necessarily revealed, the disclosures that do come to light show that the perplexing journey of the narrative was all worth it. This just what seems to be happening this season on Nashville.

In addition to all of this, the series is adding two new intriguing characters.

One is a mysterious musician portrayed by Grammy-winning banjo player and singer Rhiannon Giddens, who, in real life, is the lead singer of the African-American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops. The other is transgender actor Jen Richards. Both bring much needed diversity to the series.

What makes the addition of these characters so welcome and on-point is that the real face of country music has been experiencing an evolution of late that’s more inclusive of the general population. The genre is not considered as secular as it once was, recently achieving a much more mainstream status.

Along with the cast additions, the series smartly relies on universal themes to tell the stories of the characters; i.e., finding that thing you think is missing in your life — which is most likely a part of your true self — and then working to fit that sense of your essence into the life you want to live.

Nashville may have appeared to lose its way a bit in the final episodes of season five but now looks to have set the course for a new, interesting direction, finding an effective and noteworthy narrative along the way.

The tone in this ‘new’ version of the series is roughly the same as in seasons past (although there are now some traces of religious nuance in the first few episodes that don’t seem to have been there in the past – but they’re not overwhelming). This is pleasing in that the original tenor of the series is one of the things that made it so appealing in the first place. Add to this that the tempo of the narrative is ideal, and episodes never drag.

If Nashville can stay on its current path by continuing to infuse each episode with realistic human interaction amid a melodic soundtrack, it may just hit enough of the right notes to produce a continually pleasing melody for viewers to enjoy.

‘Nashville’ airs Thursdays at 9/8c on CMT.









Revamped ‘Nashville’ Hits the Right Notes, Most of the Time