If Nashville had its own episode of VH1's Behind the Music, we would have arrived at the part where the band takes some time apart to regroup before reuniting and launching a tour under the "back and better than ever!" umbrella. On Thursday, fans will get their first look at the show since it moved from ABC to CMT (in partnership with Hulu) and is now helmed by a new team of showrunners, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, whose TV résumé includes the beloved dramas thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. Based on the hour-long "sneak peek" premiere, which airs Thursday ahead of the official two-hour premiere on Jan. 5, the reinvention shows signs of promise.
Herskovitz has indicated the show's new incarnation on CMT will feature a less frenetic, dare we say more realistic type of storytelling. And, judging by the first hour of the Season 5 premiere, Herskovitz and Zwick are making good on that promise.
The episode deals mostly with the aftermath of Juliette's (Hayden Panettiere) plane crash, and the effect of the crash on those in her immediate orbit. The hour focuses primarily on Rayna (Connie Britton) and how she copes with the survivor's remorse/PTSD/whatever you want to call it in the wake of Juliette's - spoiler! — near-death experience. Suffice it to say, it's probably not the best idea for her to hop on a plane and fly out to Silicon Valley to play a benefit show for a bunch of tech folks who don't even really like country music.
But there seems to be something else going on with Rayna too. Given all the behind-the-scenes changes Nashville has undergone this year, it's unclear whether her new, more introspective "What does it all mean?" approach is a function of the emotional fallout from Juliette's crash, a redrawing of the character, or a little bit of both.
Whatever the reason, it's refreshing to see a version of Rayna who feels more truthfully introspective, rather than like she's just pausing on her way to the next whiplash-inducing drama in her life. With her record label in financial disarray, her eldest daughter a walking advertisement for birth control (Lennon Stella's Maddie is, regretfully, still The Worst when the show picks up), and her music failing to connect with the hip young audience she needs to stay relevant, Rayna seems as though she's truly going through an existential crisis, questioning everything she knows about herself both as a person and a celebrity. (It's no coincidence that the classic country song "Wayfaring Stranger" plays a key role in the premiere episode.) Thank goodness her relationship with Deacon (Charles Esten) seems to be on solid footing - for now.
Herskovitz has also said that the new Nashville will be "slowed down," and that he and Zwick are aiming to limit the number of subplots they touch on in each episode. That's certainly evident in the premiere, which mainly focuses on Rayna and her family, Juliette and Avery (Jonathan Jackson), and a bit of Scarlett and Gunnar (Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio). The result is that each of the stories has a bit more breathing room. Individual scenes are longer, and therefore the emotional implications of them have a more impactful (yet also smoother) landing.
It's a welcome change, and fans who have grown weary of the show's soapy, breakneck pace should definitely give CMT's Nashville a chance. The show and its characters appear to finally be getting better with age.
The Nashville Season 5 "sneak peek" premiere airs Thursday, Dec. 15 at 9/8c on CMT. The full two-hour Season 5 premiere airs Thursday, Jan. 5 at 9/8c on CMT. All new episodes will be available on Hulu the day after broadcast.