To be honest, our hopes and expectations weren’t high for “Nashville’s” return from the dead and onto CMT’s scripted slate. And then the first two episodes were so melodramatic, it felt like the series gave up being an addictively entertaining “Empire” with a twang, and rebranded itself more as a southern musical version of “As the World Turns.”
But maybe it was just a rocky transition, for on Thursday night (Jan. 12), “Nashville” premiered one of its best episodes in a long time. Much better, in fact, than anything we saw on ABC during the entirety of Season 4.
Aptly titled, “Let’s Put it Back Together Again,” the third episode of Season 5 hits all the right notes thanks to its newest character, YouTube sensation Ashley Willerman (Bridgit Mendler). The millennial performer, who’s impressively garnered over 30 million subscribers, is getting the opportunity to become a legit artist, and record a real album. Avery (Jonathon Jackson) was at first excited to produce this record, but after finding out Willerman refuses to give up “what sounds like your choking on something” vocal riffs, because she “knows what her fans want to hear,” he up and quits.
What’s so great about this plotline is that it’s been a long while since we’ve seen any new character on “Nashville,” whether it be a homeless person or the local bartender, walk up to a microphone and not come booming out the gate with an amazing voice. Rewarding popular online “influencers” and then seeing their struggle to be taken seriously, because he or she actually has some talent, is the most timely and relevant story the drama series has captured in a long time.
Making it even better is the fact that Maddie (Lennon Stella), trying to work her way up from the bottom, is currently working as an intern at the recording studio. Even though she has, using her own words, “become quite a b****,” we feel her frustration. Maddie gets reamed by Wallerman for screwing up her ridiculously complicated coffee order, punished for mistaking white bread for wheat on her vegan sandwich — all this drudge work for a girl who’s half as talented as she is, and twice as entitled.
Overall, it’s great to see that “Nashville” has its groove back. And just when it seems the episode might waste all its forward motion and revert to soap opera drama once more — toying with the idea that Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) will turn to Jesus to become a better person — even Queen Barnes herself laughs at such a notion.
It’s a beautifully honest moment for the always self-focused character — and watching it as a viewer, it feels like we’re sharing an inside joke with the writers. Also, Panettiere is nailing every scene as a currently crippled Juliette Barnes. (Emmys? Hi!)
“Nashville” excels when the rinse-and-repeat issues of the show’s relationships aren’t being put back in the washing machine. Getting the insider’s point of view of how the country music industry works, its crazy politics and artist woes, has always been what makes the show so great. (Well, that and Connie Britton’s hair, obviously.)
So let’s keep Rayna (Britton) and Deacon’s (Charles Esten), Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar’s (Sam Palladio), along with Avery and Juliette’s drama on the back burner. And keep the fresh characters and storylines coming!
“Nashville” airs on Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.