Is it possible for a life changing moment to impact everything for better or worse? That's part of the premise behind the new season of ABC's "Nashville," which continued to showcase how last season's events might make things challenging for everyone involved on the show. Sure, the night time soap opera premise has been done before endlessly, but this show has managed to provide the plots with a country music style twist to keep thing interesting each week for the most part.
"Nashville" followed music superstar Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) who seemed to have it all, until a long buried secret came back to haunt her. She covered up the true paternity of her daughter Maddie Conrad (Lennon Stella) in an effort to protect her from her biological father Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) who continued to struggle with his addiction to alcohol. Unfortunately, Maddie discovered the truth that Rayna's estranged husband Teddy (Eric Close) wasn't her father just when Deacon and Rayna reconciled. Deacon's reaction caused him to fall off the wagon, which led to a major car accident that left Rayna in a coma and Deacon in jail ready to give up on everything. Luckily, Deacon's overly supportive niece Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) was willing to stand by her uncle as she tried to focus on her rising career as a solo artist with the help of a man by her side. Scarlett also struggled for her feelings with her two ex-boyfriends that managed to help her and hurt her at the same time. She rejected her live-in boyfriend Gunnar Scott's (Sam Palladio) impulsive marriage proposal, while her other ex-boyfriend Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) allowed fame to go to his head and lost everything that mattered. Both men were working extra hard to get their music careers going and also get back into Scarlett's good graces once again. In the meantime, Gunnar was now living with a rising artist named Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) who was forced to hide his sexuality in order to be a successful singer. While Rayna was in a coma, fellow singer and sometime rival Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) was still recovering from her mother's shocking death and the events of last season. She was forced to promote her new album when she wasn't ready, but she managed to capitalize on recent events in a way that will cause trouble. Will Rayna wake up from her coma? How will she react to everything that's been happening in her absence?
In terms of questions, the show answered the most obvious one towards the end of the episode when Britton's Rayna managed to wake up from the car accident. Viewers knew that she was going to wake up, but the physical, and emotional, recovery will likely be a long process that won't be fully resolved for a while. Even though Britton's Rayna was mostly sidelined or in flashback scenes, her presence was still clearly felt throughout the premiere, which was a very good thing because she was one of the show's main focal points. The show would've been foolish to kill her off, since most of the cast was connected to her character in one way or another. There wasn't much music to be heard in the premiere, but the few songs that were performed helped to drive story when it was necessary; such as Bowen and Palladio performing "Why Can't I Say Goodnight." The song provided the perfect romantic melancholy tone that was needed for relationships to end and new ones to form in the process. Unfortunately, the show's weakest storyline remained the love triangle between Scarlett, Gunnar and Avery because the storyline really didn't have any twists. Viewers need to get to know the three characters a little more on their own before pairing them up with anyone. Hopefully, this season will allow Bowen to develop Scarlett into a stronger character that doesn't need a man or someone to care while her own life was put on the backburner. She should be put in more scenes with Panettiere and Britton in an effort to give the character more a backbone that wasn't there before. Carmack was a wise addition to the cast, because his presence last season managed to shake up Palladio's somewhat anemic bad boy storyline. He provided Will with enough swagger and shame that he had to sacrifice who he was for fame that he might not obtain anytime soon.
As for breakout performances, Britton, Panettiere and Stella led the pack due to some strong material from the season premiere. Okay, Britton might not have had much to do in the season premiere, but her flashback scenes as she remembered her turbulent past with Esten's Deacon was heartbreaking to watch. She embodied Rayna with enough innocence and anger in those scenes as she struggled to let go of the self destructive man she loved before he destroyed her. Those scenes also likely indicated that Rayna would be once again letting Deacon go from her life, because it would be too soon for viewers to have the troubled couple get a happy ending just yet. It might be possible in the future, but this season is not the time for that to happen. Panettiere's Juliette provided the show with enough zest as she schemed her way to continued success. Her character's album promoting storyline showcased Juliette at her most manipulative as she showed her support for Rayna while shamelessly promoting her album. Even Juliette was at her worst, Panettiere managed to provide Juliette with enough humanity to make viewers not want to hate her too much. She had a comfortable rapport with Bowen and Stella that should be explored in future episodes to showcase Juliette in a more positive light, even when she reverted back to her old bad habits. Stella, on the other hand, had the difficult task of being given a majorly heavy storyline for her first season as regular cast member. She managed to ground the paternity storyline with enough reality as she struggled to accept that Deacon, and not Teddy, was her biological father. Stella provided her scenes with enough confusion, anger and fear that she might be responsible for what happened to her mother. Stella's most memorable scene was when she bonded with Panettiere's Juliette over their complicated families. Let's hope that the show will continue to allow Stella to share scenes with Panettiere because they had a genuinely sisterly rapport that was fun for viewers to see and will provide great drama down the line for Rayna. Only time will tell if that's the case.
"Nashville" premiered on September 25th and airs Wednesdays at 10:00 pm on ABC.
Verdict: Britton and Panettiere continued to deliver powerhouse performances, but there were some supporting cast members who were finally coming into their own as well. Hopefully, future episodes will give other cast members the chance to shine as well.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)