Nashville, Season 1

Was Nashville Built for the Female Gaze?
Talking television.
Jan. 17 2013 1:24 AM

Nashville, Season 1

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Is Nashville designed for the female gaze?

Michael Huisman and Connie Britton in ABC's Nashville.
Michael Huisman and Connie Britton in ABC's Nashville.

Photo by Jon LeMay/ABC.

Every week in Slate’s Nashville TV club, Katy Waldman will have an IM conversation with a different Nashville fan. This week, she rehashes episode 1.10 with David Plotz, editor of Slate.

Katy Waldman: Howdy, David! What’d you think of the episode? I liked it better than last week's.

David Plotz: I didn't. The program is called Nashville. We kept hopping back and forth from Austin to Little Rock to San Diego to Oakland to Atlanta. That's not a TV show. That was the itinerary for my last flight on Southwest Airlines.

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Waldman: I appreciated the chance to "go on tour" with Rayna and Juliette, and to see these characters out of their comfort zones. You can only have so many scenes at the Bluebird Café or by the side of Juliette’s private swimming pool.

Plotz: I liked the tour-y-ness of it, but it jerked around too much. It never sank into a rhythm. Every scene moved way too fast. I did love the song in the motel room though—maybe the musical highlight of the season.

Waldman: Yes, I found that moment really poignant. It surprised me, because it sort of illustrated all the ways that music isn't a panacea for these characters. Gunnar and his brother can sing this moving song together, but hours later, the brother will still sell the guitar for a gun. You’d think a show like Nashville would be more romantic or sentimental about music as a form of salvation. I felt the same way in the earlier episodes: I kept thinking Rayna’s relationship with Deacon would prove purer somehow than her relationship with Teddy, because they had music in common. But it didn’t.

Plotz: I think it's interesting that the show focuses on how music affects the artists who make it. It is not interested in listeners, except either as an undistinguishable fan mob, or, as in an early episode when Rayna met a couple of women fans at a party, as slightly ridiculous stalker figures.

I am interested in what you, a woman perhaps more attuned to male eye candy than I am, think about the surfeit of pretty white guys on this show. Gunnar, Gunnar's brother, Avery, Liam, the quarterback, Deacon, Teddy. It seems to be a show designed for the female gaze.

Waldman: I've come to expect astronomical levels of prettiness from everyone I watch on TV. The guys of Nashville are no exception. Aren’t all the female leads equally attractive? Tousle-haired Rayna and Juliette and Scarlett and the foxy reporter...

Plotz: I don't think the female leads are as attractive. They are not as soft and pretty. Except for Scarlett, who appears to have been raised in a town where sweet tea flows in streams and houses are mortared together with grits. Juliette is HARD. Rayna, the foxy reporter, and foxy agent are old. It seems like the idea is to make a show that women in their 40s will like, with women who are attainably beautiful and age appropriate, and then male arm candy.

Waldman: That's really fascinating! Although I'd expect, then, that the male leads would be less complex than the female ones, and I don't think that's the case. If anything, it's Juliette who sometimes slides into caricature. (Even though I love when that happens. She can be a wonderful villainess.)

Plotz: Juliette as villainess. I appreciate how Nashville doesn't permit us to go all the way there. She is by far the most interesting character to me, because she is the only person who appears to have any fire. No one else cares as much as she does about the music, about the performance. That forgives a lot of sins. I did love Shawn's kiss off: “You once told me I wouldn’t like you very much if I got to know you. You were right.”

Waldman: BURN. I know I used the word villainess, but I actually think Juliette has been essentially a victim up until tonight. This was the first episode that dramatized the need for her to take responsibility for her actions. And she did! She agreed to the annulment.

Plotz: One thing I really liked about this episode, as a journalist, was Scarlett's failure to learn anything about Gunnar. They have been writing together and mooning at each other for months, yet she has never learned that he was raised by his grandmother and that his brother is in jail. Isn't that the kind of thing you find out in the first day you know someone? Does it suggest a fatal lack of curiosity in her—which Deacon hints at—or are we supposed to forgive her? For someone who is supposedly so empathetic, she sure is uncurious.

Waldman: I also really liked that moment, when Deacon called Scarlett out. (Granted, any time S is characterized as something other than a wispy elven flibbertigibbet, I perk up.) And I like the notion that she has a selfish streak to mirror Avery's.

But perhaps we're meant to understand, instead, that Gunnar is secretive and wounded?

Plotz: No way! It was all on Scarlett. You're telling me that in all those weeks of being locked in a room, writing songs about heartache and family, she never once said, "Hey Gunnar, where are you from, anyway?" Of course she didn't, she was too busy tending the butterflies fluttering about her curls.

I was secretly hoping that her encounter with Si (or is it PSY?) would turn into a really hot, consensual sex scene, with her again revealing her secret fondness for long-haired, bad boy rockers. (See: Avery)

Waldman: Except she already had her big "let my hair down" moment last week, when she fronted J.T.’s punk band. The show probably wants to leave some of her butterfly persona intact for the finale, in which she presumably shocks everyone by taking out a bike gang.

Plotz: Side note: the arena concert. The songs are so muddy! Why is it that only the ballads seem to work on the show? The big arena numbers sound like murk.

Waldman: Side note: I’d like to see Juliette and Gunnar hook up.

Plotz: Just wait until Season 2. How long till Teddy gets with Goneril, or whatever Rayna's sister is named?

Waldman: Regan. (Raygan? Raygun?)

Plotz: I do like the way Connie Britton is giving herself the anti-Taylor marriage. The Taylor marriage in Friday Night Lights was the greatest marriage in television history (says Plotz!). I appreciate that she has repeated it, with a handsome guy, pretty daughters—and yet he's weak, the marriage is weak. Though I guess it would have been braver to make HER character morally weak.

Waldman: Any thoughts on the macho rivalry between Deacon and Psy? I’m glad the showrunners gave us some male jockeying in addition to the so-called “catfighting” between Rayna and Juliette.

Plotz: It was a bit pat. I thought the Rebel Kings were Deacon's bros, that he really knew them from back in the day. Wasn't the implication when he joined the tour back in December that they were verified good guys? It felt slightly cheap to villainize Psy so quickly. (Maybe the Psy is Psycho?) One of the problems with these hour long dramas (at least the ones that are not procedurals or not HBO) is that they so quickly revert to soapiness, which means characters' motivations and behavior changes way too quickly and way too radically. Nashville is already succumbing to this.

Waldman: Yes, I think I agree. But, I got you some cowboy boots to thank you for filling in!   

Plotz: As long as our limit is three chats. Four’s too many.

Later This Week: Further analysis of Episode 10. 

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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