Will Nashville Finally Figure Out What to Do With Its Best Character?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 15 2014 1:27 PM

Character Studies: Avery Barkley, Nashville

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Will Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) finally get a song worthy of his character?

ABC

Here are some of the things that Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) did on Season 1 of Nashville:

  • ditched his struggling band/best friends and girlfriend Scarlett (Clare Bowen);
  • slept with his sleazy manager (in doing so, cheating on Scarlett) to get ahead;
  • sabotaged his career by burning the master tapes of his album;
  • consistently sported the worst facial hair in Tennessee, and possibly on television.
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In other words, no one would have been upset if he didn’t come back for Season 2. But come back he did.

And here are a few of the things that Avery did in the first half of Season 2:

  • moved in with his ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend (Gunnar, played by Sam Palladio) in an effort to make amends;
  • got a job working tables at the Bluebird Café;
  • went from jealous ex-boyfriend to supportive, humble boyfriend;
  • became the moral compass and best friend of star Juliette Barnes’ (Hayden Panttiere);
  • sported moderately better facial hair.

OK, that last one is a lie. His facial hair is still pretty egregious. But even if his physical appearance remains unchanged, his character has gone through a massive personality makeover, transforming Avery from the show’s most loathsome character to its beloved underdog.

The show comes back Wednesday night following a midseason finale that foreshadowed at least one death. But I’m looking forward less to the resolution of that cliffhanger and more to the next stop on Avery’s grand redemption tour.

Yet the show’s writers seem intent on leaving him in backup singer purgatory. I can’t think of a single song he sang this season that wasn’t for the benefit of someone else. He had a wonderful jam session with Gunnar, but then Gunnar went on to sign a deal with Edgehill Records to write on his own. He rescued Juliet from what looked to be a disastrous performance at one of her concerts—but, again, that was about Juliet, not him. The formerly entitled and obnoxious crooner has become one of the only characters on the ABC soap who’s still worth rooting for, but there’s no song to anchor him or encourage his fans.

Which is frustrating for a viewer who wants to cheer on Season 2’s best character—on a show like Nashville, everyone is only as good as their next song. This season has seen musical success for several characters, with multiple comebacks from illness, bad performances, and writer’s block. Even Rayna (played by the lovely and talented but less vocally gifted Connie Britton) has, somewhat questionably, decided to start her own label. Where does that leave the struggling Avery?

In Season 1, all I wanted was for him to stop singing, and yet he kept on playing. Now he has become the perfect vehicle for Nashville’s next great song. For us to not give up on him, he needs to parlay his redemption into some good ol’ country music. His future only goes as far as his next tune will take him.

Miriam Krule is a Slate assistant editor.

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