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'Nashville' Comes to CMT With a Little More Country
December 15, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Moving from ABC to CMT seems to have been almost a religious experience for Nashville.

Nashville was a country music soap, in the best sense of the word, during its four years on ABC.

In its first episode for CMT, some traditional country-style music takes on a near-spiritual dimension for both the main characters, Rayna James (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere).

Don’t worry, fans. We’ve still got the soap, and the humor. And yep, it looks like most of the cast will be back. There’s just this intriguing hint that on CMT, country’s deeper musical roots could become a little more visible. 

Nashville kicks off Season 5 with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 5. But in keeping with an increasingly popular cable practice, fans can catch a sneak preview of the first hour this Thursday, also at 9 p.m. ET.

Last season ended, fans will recall, with country star Rayna and her husband Deacon (Charles Esten) prying their musically talented daughter Maddie (Lennon Stella) away from rivals who wanted to zip her into the fast lane too soon.

It also looked like talented bad-girl Juliette might be dealing with some of the dicey things she had done in the past and starting to reconcile with her estranged good-guy husband Avery (Jonathan Jackson).

In the last scene, however, Juliette was on board a plane that was reported missing.  

This season opens with confirmation that yes, the plane crashed, and, whew, Juliette survived.

She has, however, been in a plane crash, which is never good, and one of the results is that she hears a traditional gospel song in a new way.

Juliette’s accident has a profound impact on Rayna, who also finds herself hearing a traditional song in a new way. Or rather, she hears it the way she heard it long ago before she became a star and started her own record label.

While the Juliette news unsettles everyone, the first hour of this season focuses almost entirely on Juliette and Rayna, whose lives again have strong parallels even when they’re on different tracks.  

Rayna wasn’t in a plane crash, but her Highway 65 label is in financial trouble, and there are bumps in Maddie returning home.  

A happy development in the homecoming is that we see more of Maddie’s younger sister Daphne (played by Stella’s real-life younger sister Maisy).

We get an update on the up-and-down relationship between Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio), largely because Scarlett is family. We get fleeting glimpses of Avery for the same reason.

We will have to wait a little longer for other characters like Will Lexington (Chris Carmack), who has suffered the trials of Job for being openly gay.

In any case, starting out with the core characters isn’t a bad idea, because even though Nashville has had some terrific subplots, Rayna and Juliette best represent what the show has always been about.

That’s part of the reason it’s intriguing when this episode connects them so deeply to two songs out of old-time country traditions, “Wayfaring Stranger” and a Southern gospel hymn.

Nashville has acknowledged the roots of country music in the past. It also isn’t going to abandon the modern country that has helped define the show and create a loyal audience. 

But this episode makes the show’s strongest connection yet to old-time folk and country, which are still powerful forces for many fans. Perhaps these songs reflect the fact the show is now on a channel targeting country fans rather than a network aimed at everyone.

In any case, Connie Britton’s opening and closing scenes are two of the best Nashville has ever aired. That’s not a bad start in a new world.

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I really enjoyed reading this review and now plan to check out Nashville for the second time since it first came out. Connie Britton is such a wonderful actor but I was spoiled by having her on Friday Night Lights against Kyle Chandler. That's a tough combination to beat.
Dec 16, 2016   |  Reply
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