When ABC’s Nashville pilot in 2012 opened with a staged concert at the Grand Ole Opry, I knew I’d found my new favorite show. It combined a few of my favorite things—country music, Nashville, Connie Britton (Mrs. T of Friday Night Lights), a plot taken straight out of celebrity blogs, and original music by famed producer T Bone Burnett.
Fast forward to today, as the show hits the midpoint of its second season. It’s clearly no longer a drama about country musicians: Burnett left the show—of which his wife, Callie Khouri, is the creator—after the first season. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “Some people were making a drama about real musicians’ lives, and some were making a soap opera. … It was a knockdown, bloody, drag-out fight, every episode.” After a year of murder-suicides, surprise engagements, fake pregnancies, near-death experiences, and innumerable love trysts, it’s clear to see that soap opera won out—and the ratings have improved because of it.
The second season continues the story of aging country star Rayna Jaymes (Britton) and her competition, the young, ruthless, crossover star Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). It also intertwines a subplot about a love triangle centering around up-and-coming singer/songwriter Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen). After a nearly fatal car accident, Rayna is trying to buy out her material from the profit-driven label owner, while Juliette competes against an even younger pop star. The show’s strongest feature is still the music—intimate duets, pop-heavy concert numbers, and more traditional country ballads—mixed in between the drama.
But while in the first season Rayna worked to maintain a troubled marriage for the sake of her two daughters (played by the wonderful Lennon and Maisy Stella) and kept her romantic desires to longing glances, the marriage has since devolved into adultery and divorce, sleeping around with multiple partners, and a case of concealed paternity. All the characters seem incapable of meeting a member of the opposite sex without ending up in his or her bed. And for added drama, they’ve introduced a closeted gay character, country star Will Lexington (Chris Carmack).
Signs of the change unfold with Juliette’s character as well. In the first season, Juliette’s wild ways were at least temporarily lessened with the introduction of a Tim Tebow–like boyfriend, who refrains from sex before marriage, and invites her to church where she sings “For Your Glory” with the choir. It seemed as if Nashville could get away with the blatant Christianity because of its Bible Belt location. But as the boyfriend’s story arc ends in an elopement and annulled marriage, so did all the show’s Southern sensibilities. By season two, Juliette is sleeping with a married man and offered a threesome with his wife.
In one scene earlier this season, Scarlett’s friend Zoey (Chaley Rose) opined that just because her father was a preacher didn’t mean she spends her nights at home watching movies—that’s boring. Instead, she wanted go out and live it up (which means sleeping with Scarlett’s ex). Similarly, the show’s decided that focusing on quality music, character development, and actual Bible Belt values is boring. It’s convinced that only sex, impossible scenarios, unexpected deaths, and more sex can keep an audience engaged.
Tell that to the 12 million viewers tuning in to watch A&E’s Duck Dynasty.