Lunchtable TV Talk: Nashville redux

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When a show I really love is cancelled, I mourn it a little bit (Terriers, for example). When a show I love is renewed and then the renewal is inexplicably withdrawn (The Brink), I am furious.

Nashville is not one of these shows. My reaction to its existence and eventual cancellation was as muffled as the run-of-the-mill, trope-filled show itself. I liked the show at first. This did not last.

What started out as an entertaining, if soapy, look at a bunch of fictional country music stars became a ludicrous, predictable mockery of storytelling. I, for one, was pleased to see that it was finally put out of its misery. Only then to be disappointed that CMT decided to revive the show as one of the network’s offerings in original programming, claiming, “We will treasure Nashville like no other network”. Every other network and online platform is doing it, so why not CMT?

The only possible bright spot and hope for redemption is that the show was self-aware enough to know it was circling the drain and needed immediate therapy. It had already begun to significantly retool itself, gearing up for a kind of reboot in its fifth season. Nashville’s previous network. ABC, brought in veteran showrunners, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, to shake things up (they are both still on board with the CMT move). We’ll see if this makes a difference (and, despite low expectations, I will watch). After all, I love Connie Britton (was she not amazing in her small role as Faye Resnick in The People vs OJ Simpson?), actually want to see what happens with Hayden Panettiere’s difficult Juliette character and perhaps most crucially am interested in the way the character Will Lexington continues his coming-out journey. I have read that some of the neglected and/or mishandled characters and their stories will be gone (i.e., Layla Grant and her whiny, sniveling, overprivileged troublemaking – highly annoying because just when you wanted to root for her, she did something to ruin it; Luke Wheeler – after his engagement to Britton’s Rayna broke apart, he has just been hanging around for no apparent reason).

The thing about Nashville is that maybe it’s not safe to count it out, which is another reason I will watch again. After all, it started out well and pulled me in. It pulled a lot of people in. I just hope that it doesn’t go the way, say, a bad job does. I was reminded today as I started writing this about how sometimes you start a new job, and because it’s new and different, you get into it and really like it, but soon all the weaknesses show up and the structure starts creaking. Day by day (or in the case of Nashville, episode by episode), you grow more disillusioned and unhappy. You stick with it in the absence of something else but feel yourself growing numb. Then when you try to quit, someone in the organization convinces you to stay (or the network promises big changes, as ABC was working on for Nashville). You have your doubts but agree. And immediately regret it. It’s time to cancel. In the case of the job, I cancelled. But I will still give Nashville another shot, hoping that it follows a happier trajectory than an unhappy corporate job.

Photo (c) 2010 Emily Carlin

Lunchtable TV Talk – Nashville: Music pulls you in

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I am happy when a same-sex couple shares some kind of intimacy on television. On the most recent episode of Nashville, closeted and conflicted character Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) kisses a man in whom he has interest. Will’s journey to self-acceptance has maybe only just begun (he does not want to jeopardize his career by coming out) but at least he is not trying to throw himself in front of trains, acting out in homophobic self-hate or getting married to women to conceal his true self. He seems to be moving slowly toward coming out, which required a lot of self-searching and bad decisions – and most of all, coming to accept himself as a gay man. Maybe coming out is coming next.

I like seeing these personal evolutions of all kinds on tv, and I am especially happy when “minority” storylines play out alongside the rest of the stories. Will’s reluctance to come out has a lot to do with believing his doing so will jeopardize his burgeoning country music career. A somewhat similar story unfolds in Empire, in which one of the characters, Jamal (Jussie Smollett), is proudly gay and out to his family, but his father – the head of an entertainment empire, doesn’t want Jamal to come out publicly (Jamal is a musician), and the father holds this over Jamal’s head (along the lines of, “If you come out, I will cut you off…”). These experiences share similarities and differences, and seeing them on television will further the case for equality – and for letting people be who they are (and see representations of that on TV).

I saw a quote from Ellen DeGeneres today that summed up my thinking exactly: “Whenever people act like gay images in the media will influence kids to be gay I want to remind them that gay children grew up with only straight people on television.” The important thing – what we need to move toward – is showing representations of all kinds of people so that all kinds of viewers can relate.

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In many ways Nashville is an annoying soap opera, but I keep watching because I like Connie Britton, because I mostly like the positive changes that Hayden Panettiere’s character has undergone, because I sometimes hope there will be some kind of semi-redemptive qualities in characters like Oliver Hudson’s Jeff Fordham, and mostly because I really enjoy the music. It’s the music that has always pulled me in and kept me coming back.