We haven’t posted anything on Nashville since Kim checked in on its freshmen season last year. But, rest assured, we both remain loyal viewers of the sturdy little drama, which ABC has already locked in for a 22-episode third season.
In an era when most network dramas are struggling to keep up creatively with their premium cable counterparts, Nashville is a series that can be enjoyed on its own terms – no daydreaming about the HBO version. It doesn’t need looser restrictions or a bigger budget. Nashville is what it is. And though it’s had its fair share of missteps (Peggy and the pig’s blood, the inexplicable focus on Rayna’s dad, Deacon giving up his dog – WHY??), the series is packed with enough characters to guarantee that at least part of every episode will strike your fancy. With two seasons under our belts, we’ve ranked the current main stable of Nashville artists, from can’t-stand-them to YAS, BITCH, YAS. Your current country standings are as follows.
13. Scarlett O’Connor
You cannot make us care about Scarlett, Nashville. No matter how hard you try. And oh, how you’ve tried.
Scarlett O’Connor is the worst kind of perpetual victim. She’s the Grand Ole Opry’s answer to the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. She’s apparently the second coming of Patsy Cline, but doesn’t want to be famous ’cause she’s just lil ‘ol me (chinhands). She wore that red tutu monstrosity and looked like she’d escaped from an episode of Hee Haw. She fell prey to the generic prescription drug addition established in TV trope-dom by Jesse Spano and carried on recently by Ivy Lynn and her glorious bosom on Smash. She dropped out of the game, but only after Rayna spent who knows how much of her new label’s (and therefore HER OWN) cash and time on producing her album and promoting her as an artist. She’s nothing but support and love to alcoholic Uncle Deacon, but has no time for a mother who clearly suffers from mental illness AND substance abuse. And we were VERY NEARLY RID OF HER until Gunnar opened his big, fat mouth and told her to stay. (A smooth move that did him no favors re: this list.) Because who needs a degree from Ole Miss when there are half-eaten lemon bars to be bussed at the Bluebird?
12. Teddy Conrad
Now that Teddy half-murdered Rayna’s dad and sadness-banged Deacon’s lawyer girlfriend, he is officially irrelevant. Rayna’s ex spent most of the second half of this season pushing Maddie away and then giving the stink eye to Deacon at every opportunity. For the mayor of this town, Teddy seems to be just about its most impotent citizen.
11. Layla Grant
10. Will Lexington
Chris Carmack is pretty compelling and has been ever since his puka-shelled bully days on The O.C. And I get that the show is trying to say something here about the conservative nature of the country music community. It’s just that I’ve seen enough fictional gay martyrs to last me several lifetimes. Please give Will more to do than stare longingly at boys and then cry in dark rooms. He’s an artist. He’s a friend. He went to the edge, looked over, and stepped back to keep on living. He deserves more.
…like maybe a beautiful romance with his best friend Gunnar, the person who loves him most in this world? Idk. Idk.
9. Zoey Dalton
Oh, Zoey. I don’t know why you’re here. But I do know that your hair is SUPER pretty and somehow you endure being best friends with attention vampire Scarlett. I hope that you go off to have great success 20 feet from stardom while your boyfriend explores his true feelings for his strapping friend Will.
8. Daphne Conrad
Cute as a god damned button, this one. And master of some pretty sick harmonies. She unfortunately learned this year that her older sis has a cool dad while she’s still saddled with Mr. White People Problems. So, props to Daph for taking that one in stride.
7. Gunnar Scott
Chill is Gunnar Scott’s middle name. When everyone around him is either wallowing or wildin’ out, it’s Gunnar’s job to talk them down. He’s making bank as a songwriter, making him one of the only musicians on this show who’s concentrating on just doing his job and not on taking some other bitches down. He’s got a dope house. He’s been a true friend to Will. But Gunnar, I warn you: you WILL drop like a stone if you use Zoey’s absence as an opportunity to reconnect with Scarlett who never did deserve you. Go for Will instead and you might be giving #1 a run for her money in the 2015 rankings.
6. Luke Wheeler
Luke is a good, good man. He was exactly what Rayna needed after her accident and Deacon’s backslide. She wouldn’t have weathered her father’s death or the reveal of Maddie’s paternity without such a solid presence next to her. He’s everything that she should want, so obviously he’s toast. But we’ll enjoy him while he’s here, for what he’s done for our girl and because he’s Will freakin’ Chase.
Lennon Stella has really come into her own this year – a rough one for her character. Maddie has struggled, not unrealistically, to understand who her family is and how they all fit together. Daphne is Teddy’s daddy’s girl. Maddie, we’re always told, is a mini-Rayna. They clash because they’re so alike and because Maddie doesn’t believe her mother when Rayna tells her that she knows what it is to feel so restless. She’s blossomed in her relationship with Deacon because it is hers. And it’s something that she’ll fiercely protect.
4. Avery Barkley
If you had told me in season 1 that Avery would be anywhere near my Top 5 favorite Nashville characters, I’d have brained you with Deacon’s restrung Fender. But now that he’s free from the clutches of Scarlett and Wyclef Jean, Avery is kind of a dreamboat. Pairing Avery and Juliette was a little slice of genius. Coming off of his unfortunate brush with fame, Avery was unimpressed by it. And what Juliette has always needed more than all the hangers-on in Tennessee is to be treated like a person. I like that Nashville has shown that there is a sacrifice necessary for fame that several of these characters just aren’t willing to make. The industry isn’t just made up of superstars. There are promoters and roadies and musicians and executives and craft services people and songwriters. Avery’s so much more pleasant for us to be around now that he’s happily accepted the role he plays in this world. After all we’ve gone through with him, it was rough to watch Avery get his heart broken in the finale. Buuuuuut, perhaps this Avery could do with remembering a little piece of rock-star-in-training Avery as he soulsearches about his future with Juliette – at least the piece that cheated on Scarlett to further his career. Glass houses, Barkley. That girl loves you.
3. Rayna James
We love a good ginger queen round these parts, especially one brought to life by Connie “Mrs. Coach” Britton. Rayna James was handling better than Olivia Pope this season. Life-threatening accident? No problem. Label troubles? Starts her own. Whole world finds out her darkest secret? Talks about it on morning television like she’s sharing a pecan pie recipe. Hair game on point throughout it all.
Jeff Fordham gave Rayna and Juliette a common enemy, which was good news for those of us for whom the cat fight was getting old. Juliette now sees Rayna as a resource – even a mentor, at times. And Rayna, for her part, sees Juliette for the frightened warrior that she is. Her advice when Juliette comes clean about her liaison with Jeff is so calm and collected and motherly that Juliette can’t help but see the light at the end. And even when Juliette lashes out, Rayna takes it with more than a grain of salt. She lets it pass. Rayna’s been in this business for too long to take things personally. She wouldn’t have become such a legend if she had.
2. Deacon Claybourne
Ugh, Deacon Claybourne. A wounded soul with a heart of gold and an old guitar. He’s not safe. He’s not a sure thing. But he just might be worth it.
I unreservedly ship Rayna and Deacon and have since day 1. The chemistry is way too real. “But Sage,” you say. “He’s failed her over and over again.” Yes, my friends. ‘Tis true. But I counter that the Maddie scandal wasn’t introduced this season just to complicate Rayna’s life. Deacon is a father now. He never won’t be. It’s changed everything for him. There was a part of him that always believed and feared that Rayna would be better off if he weren’t around. So who cared if he drank himself to death or drove head-on into a semi? Maddie’s given him a will to live, a will to thrive, a will to be an example. And if she’s so great and she belongs to him, then maybe he really is worth something after all.
Luke would be getting his gigundo diamond back about 3 seconds after this scene if I were in Rayna’s place.
1. Juliette Barnes
For as wide as this ensemble is, Nashville has always felt like Juliette’s story to me. If there were consistency or justice in the world, Hayden Panettiere would be having awards lobbed at her daily for breaking down every Poor Little Rich Girl stereotype with this part. And what a part it is. Juliette rages and sasses and breaks down and sings her pretty face off and wears sparkly dresses and cries like the world is ending, alone and barefaced. She’s fucking up all the time but we just keep rooting for her, because we know what she’s up against. There’s a self awareness here that wasn’t there in the pilot. And that’s Juliette – something like what she experienced with her mother’s relapse and untimely death would have broken anyone weaker. This girl is constantly learning about herself. And she’s finally sharing what’s she’s learned with the people who love her. It’s the only way she won’t end up alone. Season 1 Juliette wouldn’t have considered dating Avery and she certainly wouldn’t have told him about the unwelcome attention she got from her mother’s boyfriends as a little girl. Her issues run so deep that her mistakes never feel like retreads. She’s still got a long way to go.
My interest in other characters ebbs and flows, but Juliette is always vital. She’s the heart of the show. I love Juliette Barnes so hard that I wonder if I’m a little too harsh on T. Swift sometimes. That’s real, y’all.
Fellow Nashvillians! Do you agree with these rankings? Feel free to take me to task in the comments.