'Nashville' reminds us once again why Juliette is its most dynamic figure
It's funny the way things so rarely turn out as intended in the world of scripted television. You've got shows practically built to be massive, critically acclaimed hits that fall flat on their faces, like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. (Remember its underdog sitcom competitor that was supposed to come and go? It was called 30 Rock, and would last seven amazing seasons.) You've got all-time great comedies like The Office or Seinfeld that took at least a season, maybe more, to find a regular audience that would keep them on the air.
On a more directly creative level, you've got shows that quickly (or slowly!) realize they want to tell stories outside the scope of their original premise (say, Cougar Town). Shows that realize they have a breakout character on their hands (Schmidt on New Girl; Steve Urkel on Family Matters) and rework their creative approach to support them. The Mindy Project had jettisoned 2-3 members of its original cast by the end of the first season, realizing it didn't want to be whatever show it was back in September 2012.
Then you've got a show like Nashville — sweet, dumb Nashville — that nearing the end of its sophomore year is... well, not a mess, maybe, but certainly nowhere closer to defining what it really wants to be than it was a year and a half ago. It's swimming, floating, even, unsure of much of anything while still acknowledging from time to time — when it straight-up kills major characters — that something's not working.
But far and away the weirdest part of Nashville's identity, the thing that makes me pause and go "huh?" every single week, is the fact that Connie Britton (and her character, Rayna James) have been so totally supplanted by every other character and storyline on this show. She's boring... and, worse, the show seems to know she's boring! Outside of her "rebellious" decision to leave Edgehill Records at the beginning of the season, she's barely made a move of her own. She's been in a new, boring relationship. Butted heads, boringly, with her ex-husband. Rayna's basically a supporting character on her own show.
Juliette has long been the (way) more interesting half of the Rayna/Juliette schism the show set up early in the first season and then sporadically returned to over time. She's the one who's changed, made mistakes, and ultimately come out the other side stronger and more dynamic than ever before. Just think about the plot lines that have shaped her: shotgun marriage to that basketball (football?) player, drug addict mom's murder-suicide, dismantling of her teen-friendly image, tryst with a billionaire fan, new relationship with server-turned-star-turned-roadie-turned-guitarist Avery. Many of them were ridiculous, sure, but they happened! And it is, after all, a soap opera. Unlike Rayna, Juliette actually satisfies the basic requirements of the show she's on!
Wednesday night tried to balance Juliette and Rayna by giving the latter some baby daddy drama to sort through. Deacon, of course, is the father of Rayna's oldest — a fact that was released to the world after Maddie uploaded a video of her singing, using the name "Maddie Claybourne." To put to rest all the rumors and family attacks, Rayna enlisted Deacon and Teddy to speak to Good Morning America. Proactive, Rayna! A positive step.
But it was Juliette who, once more, had more (and more interesting) things to do. Tasked with bringing more radio attention to the tour, she hunted down her old flame Charlie Wentworth and managed to stay out of his grasp. Later, she took use of the tough love approach to get Scarlett out on stage. Granted, that didn't work out so well when Scarlett had an alcohol-induced panic attack, but still. Juliette is always the one making stuff happen.
Bottom line: Make Rayna a more captivating character or just change the name of the show to Juliette's Nashville or Juliette Presents: Nashville or another title with Juliette! prominently featured. I'm going to have to watch no matter what, but the rest of the American public should know what it is they're getting.