Top of the Charts: The Definitive Nashville Character Ranking

Nashville Door's right hereNashville Rayna Juliette high five
Posted by Sage

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

Nashville Scarlett Freak Out

You cannot make us care about Scarlett, NashvilleNo 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

Nashville Teddy and Daphne

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

Nashville Layla JulietteNashville Layla Juliette 2
Layla was smartly introduced as a foil for Juliette. The winner of a Nashville Star type reality series, she was even younger and even more marketable than Ms. Barnes, which made for some great scenes like the one above. (Avery’s face is gold, btw.) Then she was linked to Will and to his storyline, one of the most heavyhanded and exhausting of the show. It’s brought her down. We still see hints of her drive, especially with her refusal to take Will’s weak “no” to signing on for their own reality show for an answer. But the role of the unwitting beard isn’t a fun one for anyone. So hopefully Will’s tearful confession will lead to a more ruthless and amusing Layla next season.

10. Will Lexington

Nashville Will and Gunnar

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

Nashville 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

Nashville 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

Nashville Gunnar Alright

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

Nashville 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.

5. Maddie Conrad Claybourne

Nashville Maddy Guitar

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

Nashville Avery Barkley Smile

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

Nashville Rayna Just Business

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

Nashville Deacon Can't Complain

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

Nashville Juliette girl worth choosing

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.

Nashville Juliette loves me

Fellow Nashvillians! Do you agree with these rankings? Feel free to take me to task in the comments.

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18 thoughts on “Top of the Charts: The Definitive Nashville Character Ranking

  1. westwingwolf says:

    Maddie would be higher on my list if she could grow up a little bit. The temper tantrums and secret video postings are not the way to get her parents to understand how much music means to her. They all want her to focus on school because it’s a better chance to make it than music is. But she won’t listen to that, she just thinks they are out to ruin her life. If she did something more to show them how much it means instead of whining when she doesn’t get her way, I could like her more. Now I know that’s not true to how a teenager would behave, but if it is what she wants she’s got to behave more like an adult because Rayna has seen what the music business has done to adults so she knows her teenager won’t be able to handle it if she constantly behaves like a teenager.

    I’ve always liked Teddy more than most (except for the cheating moments which to be honest was half self destructive behavior due to depression that both Deacon & Juliette have been guilty of and half feeling like Deacon has taken Maddie away from him so he wanted to get back at him, and maybe like a smidge of real feelings that turned out not to matter because we all know this was just written so the characters of Teddy & Deacon’s girlfriend would have something dramatic to do), so I don’t think he’s ever gotten a fair deal when this show was clearly pushing Rayna/Deacon from day one. I’m fine with pushing a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that you have to make the third person out to be a villain in order to make the relationship you want to be in the right. (If Luke is lucky, Rayna will just break up with him before it comes out that he’s cheating on her or does something to hurt her career or accidentally kills someone or something.) Teddy has to be a standup guy to raise a kid that’s not his own, do so for years, and rather well. I think he has a right to feel like he is losing Maddie and be worried that Deacon would backslide and cause problems for her. Any adoptive parent would feel the same when the birth parent takes a bigger role in the child’s life. But he also has to give in now. I want Teddy & Deacon to work together so Maddie doesn’t have to choose. I was so hopeful during that scene where Deacon asked about Maddie’s birth because for one shining moment it looked good. I WANT THAT MOMENT BACK! However, I agree that Teddy has served his purpose so I think it would be best if Teddy & Deacon were to come to an understanding, and then Teddy just becomes a character that is mentioned on occasion and assumed to be around but not seen. I assume Nashville is a big place (bigger than a small town anyway), and he is only necessary if something important happens to the girls or to Rayna in order to be there for the girls.

    Avery is the Nashville version of Don from The Newsroom. He was written to be hated in the beginning (so you would want to ship Scarlett/Gunnar & Jim/Maggie), and then suddenly out of nowhere he becomes a favorite and you are happy whenever he is on screen. Since Juliette is my favorite and Sloan is my favorite, I guess it makes sense that I ship Avery/Juliette and Don/Sloan.

    I continue to hope for a Clue inspired episode where Jeff Fordham is killed and everyone is a suspect. Maybe Scarlett will turn out to be the killer because she snaps and takes it out on Jeff. She’ll go to prison, never to be seen again, and then we will get a twofer. Though I would miss Scarlett’s songs with Gunnar. It’s the only thing I like about her now.

    Otherwise, I’m pretty much the same. I’d probably put Deacon a little bit lower. Move up Avery & Rayna.

    • HeadOverFeels says:

      I feel like I want to position my list a little, because you’re spot on about Teddy’s issues and Maddie’s too. I’m not ranking them as people, best to worst. Because this is such a massive cast, some of them get short shrift. Some are used (as you say Teddy is and Avery was, and rightly too) to push along other stories or bring other characters closer together. And some of them, like Juliette, seem to be more fully realized. She does things because Juliette Barnes would do those things, not because we need her to fuck up to show someone else in a better light. So I ordered them in terms of how compelling I find their characters – how relevant they are right at this moment. Like, what has poor Will ever done that even touches some of the bad behavior of the others? But bless him, his storyline is boring as hell.

      I too have found Maddie annoying at times, but I think Nashville actually gets it right in terms of how an adolescent – and a very sheltered one at that – would deal with a shake-up like this. She reminds me of Julie Taylor on FNL, who could also be pretty contrary and immature. Because she was 15 and thought she knew everything. So does Maddie. Looking at the whole season after the finale, it feels like the Maddie parentage arc was the center of everything. She’s a piece of Rayna and a piece of Deacon, representative of what their life could have been. She’s Deacon’s redemption. And Teddy knew what he was signing up for – that, and marrying a woman he knew was in love with someone else. It’s a struggle for all of them to figure out how they work, but I don’t feel sorry for Teddy over anyone else. Rayna was faithful and fully present for their entire marriage and the problems that broke them up had little to do with Deacon. And as Maddie matures, she’s not going to look at Teddy as the person who kept her from her real family.

      Anyway, I stand by having Deacon where I do because I’m always happy to see him on screen. I’ve never been bored by him.

      I LOVE YOUR IDEA ABOUT A CLUE-THEMED EPISODE. Can it be live ala the debate episode of TWW? –S

      • westwingwolf says:

        I get all of it. I feel the need to be a Teddy supporter because he gets no love. It’s this feeling that the show seems to be saying Deacon is the better choice because he is Maddie’s birth father. And I have a need to side with adoptive parents if they are good parents. I think at this point, Teddy & Deacon are equal. If Teddy were down right horrible to her, I would side with Deacon only, but he’s not. He is jealous of their new found relationship, and that may be why he doesn’t want her to get too involved in music. But Rayna won’t let her either, and if it’s true that she neglects school work for music, then he has a right to say when music has its place. I get it, we see her having a better time with Deacon because that’s new and they have a lot in common, and her fighting more with Teddy because that’s where the drama is. I just wish it was evened out a bit more. It always feels like when I read people’s comments they side with Deacon, don’t put a lot of blame on Rayna for keeping Maddie from him (which she was completely in the right to do, and I understand her not wanting to tell him the truth because when is the right time to do so and think he won’t fall off the wagon when he learns…which he did), and somehow Teddy gets all the blame for doing essentially what was a nice thing. Like he stole Rayna and Maddie from Deacon. Maybe the writers don’t mean it like that. They’ve had Deacon say it was better for Maddie to be raised by him because he couldn’t do it himself. I like to think Rayna doesn’t completely wish for that like that could have been with Deacon because then she wouldn’t have Daphnie. But it’s like anytime I read the comments, it’s as if Teddy is the devil for what he did all those years ago, and he’s not even in the way of Rayna and Deacon now. I know that he knew what he signed up for, but I doubt he went into the marriage thinking about when and how it would end. No one goes into a marriage thinking that unless it was a bad marriage to begin with. At the time, he probably had good reason to think Deacon would never sober up so it would be a long while, if ever, that Maddie learned the truth. He was secure about his family, and now he’s not. It’s not like he’s evil and annoying like Game of Thrones’ Joffrey (which you might think so every time you see someone say they want him killed off). He could have been someone interesting with this storyline if they didn’t give a bunch of other storylines that no one cared about (Mayoral race, Peggy). I want them to write him off in a good place before he’s pushed to full on evil or killed off which does no one any favors. But yes, the writers either need to do better with the characters or write them out. The cast could use some cutting. They learned from their crazy S1 finale to do a calmer finale, so hopefully they’ll learn to expand or eliminate the necessary characters. Sorry I ranted, the adoptive parent being ignored/replaced by birth parent storyline is like a trigger for me.

        So you want like a live Clue themed episode or like we can pick the ending? Because they did that for Psych. I don’t know. I kind of see it more like Dallas’ Who Shot JR?, except Jeff isn’t as interesting or likable as JR. More that almost every character would have a reason to shoot him so he lends himself to the idea. Shoot him in the winter finale. And come back spring to do a few episodes to figure out who shot him. No more than 3 maybe. I don’t like spending too much time on Jeff even if it were his death.

  2. Margaret says:

    So glad you’re writing about Nashville again! I love, love, love this show. I don’t have the same loathing for Scarlett that you do, though I haven’t liked her storyline this season. I hope in the same way Avery was redeemed by realizing stardom wasn’t for him and settling into a behind the scenes Scarlett will do the same. I love her and Gunnar and think they’re better together. I totally agree about Will, his storyline is killing me – come out and be awesome, this fauxmance with Layla is ridiculous. Watching the billboard music awards last night I kept hoping for a Nashville performance 🙂 I would love for the show to explore a bit outside Nashville into how country music interacts with the rest of the industry.

    • HeadOverFeels says:

      Yay! It was really fun to dig into it. And I MUCH preferred this year’s finale to last year’s. The whole season felt more complete, especially with Rayna and Juliette as allies instead of enemies.

      I just don’t understand WHY Scarlett is there. She’s such a thinly drawn character. I never know what her motivations are. She has no idea what she wants. So it’s frustrating to watch her roll around like she’s in a pinball machine. If I had to say when I liked her best, it WOULD be when she and Gunnar were being all domestic. But now I’m fully onboard the Will/Gunnar train though it’s terribly unlikely to ever happen. Sadness.

      I agree with you on expanding the universe of the show – hopefully we’ll see that next season! –S

  3. Bella says:

    LOVED this list. Love Nashville, it’s done good things for the songwriting community here. Also I did not realize this but Zoey & Gunnar a real life couple! Saw them kissing with my own eyes the other night at the bar.

  4. R. Binstock says:

    Scarlett as a character on Nashville is irritating. Miss Bowen does not come off as a great actress in this role.

  5. Jenny says:

    I disagree with the assessment of Scarlett – throughout season one she was a very compelling character. Beneath the wide-eyed innocence, she exhibited maturity and intelligence in how she handled her career, her uncle Deacon, and her love interests. I hoped that her insight and intelligence would help her throughout the show.

    She promised to play a dual role in the show: to give an outsider’s perspective on the country music business, and to be a foil to Juliet. I hoped that she would build up her career, slowly and painstakingly, of course, with setbacks, but without much of the sleaze, underhandedness, and stunts Juliet feels the need to pull. I also hoped she’d find a more worthy male lead – more mature and – let’s be honest – more intelligent. (She is the one writing the poems, after all.)

    But then, it seems as though the show’s writers just switched off the Scarlett they started writing and replaced her with a new character – insecure, spineless, whiny and petty. Maybe the writers felt that no character is complete without some , mentally unstable family members, deep-seated personal problems, and some substance abuse. But Season 1 Scarlett exhibited none of these tendencies, so adding them in is completely not believable.

    It’s a shame they ruined her.

    • HeadOverFeels says:

      I totally agree. I was a big fan in S1 but ever since it’s been downhill from there to where I can’t remember ever liking her, sadly.

  6. Haha totally agree with putting Scarlett at the bottom! She is by far my least favorite, which is how I even found this list…because I googled if anyone else found her incredibly annoying.

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