We’re five episodes into Nashville‘s fifth season and now seems as good a time as any to say it: The country-music drama is back.
If you’ve read TVLine with any regularity over the years, you know that I’ve been a loving but tough critic of the show, which had a strong start on ABC in 2012 but meandered after Season 2.
Rayna and Deacon’s love story, once the series’ guiding light, became muddled like stirred-up sweet tea, thanks to car crashes and relapses and teen daughters with delusions of maturity. Gunnar and Scarlett, at first a captivating window into the way the music biz treats those wanting to become stars, soon became the on-again/off-again relationship seesaw common to pretty much every primetime soap couple. And Juliette, one of TV’s great spitfires at Nashville‘s outset, found herself mixed up in a booze-and-pills/accidental death storyline that seemed like it lasted forever.
Much has been made of how the episodes currently airing, helmed by thirtysomething executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, have been slowed down to get away from previous seasons’ hectic feel. But I’d argue that Season 5 so far has strong momentum: In each episode, we get movement on at least one big question — who’s Rayna’s stalker? Will Juliette ever move her legs again? — while the rest of what happens on screen either supports those storylines or sets up action that’ll transpire in the future.
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It’s a commendable feat, bringing this series back to equilibrium while keeping the parts we loved intact. When Rayna and Deacon spent a recent scene chatting about work as they went about their nightly pre-bedtime rituals, they felt very much like the same people who pined for each other while singing “No One Will Ever Love You” at The Bluebird in Season 1 and who got pretend-married in a hospital room during one of Season 3’s high points. (The fact that, while watching said scene, I can ignore Deacon’s ill-advised Season 4 fisticuffs with his Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor after being accused of stealing “yer damn dead sister’s liver!” is merely icing on this very satisfying cake.)
Yep, I’m feeling very optimistic about the season as it moves ahead. We’re not even a quarter of the way through the episode count, and already I’m cheering for Maddie to learn and grow from her complicated new relationship with Clay. And if you had told me a season ago that I’d ever champion any airtime spent on Rayna and Deacon’s entitled teenager, I’d have slapped you silly with Deacon’s guitar strap.
So if you watched Nashville but drifted away, it’s time to buy a new ticket to the Ryman and find your seat: The show’s just gettin’ started.