On Thursday night, “Nashville” returns on CMT for its fifth season — or maybe more accurately, “Nashville 2.0.” The soapy country music drama has a new network after ABC gave it the boot in May, and new executive producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick (“Thirtysomething,” “My So-Called Life”) have taken over showrunner duties.
Recently, I re-watched the first four seasons of “Nashville” and was surprised at how much I learned (and had completely forgotten) about the show, which took some bizarre, enraging and convoluted turns. So as the show returns, here are 10 crazy facts to remember:
1) No one ever finds out that Deacon and Juliette slept together.
Remember way back early in the first season when 40-something singer-songwriter Deacon (Charles Esten) and 20-something country star Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) had an ill-advised fling for a few episodes? That news would infuriate fellow country star Rayna (Connie Britton), Juliette’s frenemy and Deacon’s soul mate, so it seems ripe for a few episodes of drama. Strangely enough, the writers never milked it. The only person who ever briefly brought it up was Juliette’s mother’s sober companion, Dante (Jay Hernandez), who accused Deacon of taking advantage of a vulnerable Juliette.
2) Juliette’s mom died to save Juliette’s career.
Speaking of the sober companion, can we remember that Dante slept with Juliette; secretly recorded them having sex; and then told Juliette that unless she paid him $10 million, he would release the tape and ruin her career? And that Juliette’s mother, Jolene (Sylvia Jefferies), shot the sober companion, destroyed the tape and then killed herself? No wonder Juliette still has major issues.
3) Scarlett is an infuriating character . . . but also a sympathetic one.
It’s easy to pile on Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen), Deacon’s niece, considered one of the most annoying characters on “Nashville.” Not only did she pretty much trip and fall into a country music career — she was writing poetry until her co-worker, Gunnar (Sam Palladio), pointed out they could be song lyrics — but also she never seemed to appreciate her good fortune. Watching the show again, however, it’s easy to feel bad for Scarlett, as she was basically bullied into trying to become a country star. Even though she was clearly more comfortable behind the scenes as a writer, everyone kept telling her she shouldn’t waste her gift as a singer. No wonder she had a meltdown.
4) Juliette and Avery actually had a great relationship.
Season 4 ended with a huge cliffhanger — Avery (Jonathan Jackson) rushed to the airport to tell his ex-wife, Juliette, that he still loves her and then hears that a plane (presumably Juliette’s) crashed 90 miles outside of Nashville. Panettiere is confirmed to return to Season 5, so something tells us they’ll work it out, even though they got divorced when Juliette was struggling with postpartum depression. Things between them got so nasty that we forgot they had a solid relationship, and were great friends in Season 2, as Avery helped build Juliette’s self-esteem back up after her career took a hit.
5) Jeff Fordham really was pure evil.
Yeah, the former label head plunged to his death early in Season 4 while trying to save Juliette from falling off a building, so it’s unlikely he’ll come up much this season. If he does, just remember he was an awful character. He took great pleasure in verbally tormenting his female artists. He creepily tried to sign Rayna’s underage daughter to his label. He was furious when he found out Will Lexington (Chris Carmack) was gay, because he didn’t want his star being “arrested in a bathroom” someday. The show tried to humanize Jeff when he was finally fired and lost everything, and it didn’t work. The best part about Jeff was after he had a one-night stand with Juliette (and he tried to blackmail her with it later) and she told him, “Thank you for the worst minute-and-a-half of my life.”
6) Rayna did have reasons for picking Luke over Deacon.
Rayna and Deacon’s fraught, on again-off again relationship is the lifeblood of “Nashville,” as the couple’s storyline has driven the action since the first episode. So it was shocking in Season 3 when Rayna got engaged to country star Luke Wheeler (Will Chase), even though Deacon was fighting to win her back. Even though Rayna eventually called off the wedding and married Deacon (and Luke’s character has been written off the show), that relationship still haunts Deacon. Yet it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just a classic “Nashville” nonsensical plot device: A flashback episode shows Rayna and Luke went way back, ever since they were both struggling country artists, and the writers hinted that Luke had always been in love with her. Plus, when Deacon went off the grid in his early days, in the grips of alcoholism, Luke was there to help.
7) Maddie has always been awful.
Scarlett may be irritating, though the Worst “Nashville” Character title always goes to Maddie Conrad (Lennon Stella), Rayna’s teenage daughter. If it appeared that she suddenly transformed into horrible teen overnight when she started throwing tantrums in Seasons 3 and 4, let us reassure you, she was always terrible. Sure, at first she was an adorable tween in a charming singing duo with her little sister, Daphne (Maisy Stella). But she called Rayna a “b—-” as early as Season 2, so the signs were always there that she would try to be emancipated when her parents (gasp!) wouldn’t let her sign a record deal.
8) Teddy (Eric Close) slept with Deacon’s girlfriend, Megan (Christina Chang), after he found out his new wife, Peggy (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), lied about her pregnancy.
Just another reminder about why Deacon hates Rayna’s ex-husband, Teddy.
9) There was a whole episode about women in country radio.
Before it was taken over by soap opera plots, “Nashville” had a fairly realistic take on the behind-the-scenes of the country music industry. As everyone knows, it’s not easy for a budding female country artist to get played on the radio — and the show tackled this in a very straightforward manner. In a Season 2 episode, Juliette took on a creepy, very powerful radio host nicknamed “Santa Claus,” because he encouraged young, female country singers to sit in his lap.
10) Rayna had one of the sickest burns in the history of television.
Remember when aspiring singer Sadie Stone (Laura Benanti) was abused by her ex-husband, Pete (Jay Wilkison)? Rayna confronted him during a particularly nasty episode and offered a theory about why he was a violent loser: “Maybe the good Lord only gave you two inches.”
|© CMT Connie Britton on Season 5 of “Nashville.”|
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What’s on TV
NASHVILLE 9 p.m. on CMT. Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) wasn’t the only one whose survival was in question when her plane fell off the radar in May, in the Season 4 finale of this series. The show had been canceled by ABC, with only the faintest hope of resuscitation. But thanks to 174,000 heartbroken fans and a Change.org petition, “Nashville” has settled into a new home on CMT, with promises of fewer soap suds. This two-hour Season 5 opener finds Juliette pulled from the wreckage by a sweet-voiced angel in white, after which her shaken rival, Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton), takes off on a road trip of self-discovery — in a convertible, naturally, her strawberry blond waves blowing in the wind. Meanwhile, the Grammy-winning Rhiannon Giddens and the transgender activist Jen Richards join the cast.