ABC's musical drama has been lauded for its fierce, complicated female leads, but their male counterparts have been overtaken by a sad-sack epidemic.
As a TV musical with a country twang and an All About Eve premise, Nashville doesn't require its audience to appreciate the music: Its greatest asset is its characters. The well-reviewed ABC drama may be a prime-time soap opera that doesn't futz with form or expectation, but its leads are richly fleshed out. Dignity and artistic tradition fuel Connie Britton's country icon Rayna James; Hayden Panettiere's upstart singer Juliette Barnes is all ambition and sex appeal. Both share a willful integrity and savvy self-preservation streak.
The fiery dynamic between the two women garners critical praise for the show and a solid viewership tune in each week. But a dozen episodes into its first season, something is amiss in the otherwise-excellent series. The badassery in the female department starkly constrasts with the men, who all rank somewhere in the sad-sack spectrum. The "end of men" trope on television is nearly a cliché at this point, but regardless of whether Nashville's trying to tap the zeitgeist or not, the weakness of its main men is so pervasive that it's become distracting.
Nashville was created by Thelma and Louise scribe Callie Khouri, and like her iconic, cliffing-jumping movie, the show revolves around the relationship of two women. But rather than depicting depths of a friendship, it details the tensions of a rivalry. Or that was the premise, but the show quickly expanded. The men are no longer sideshows or sidekicks. They take up ample screen-time, ostensibly as part of the show's attempt to earn comparisons to the varied ensemble cast in the Robert Altman opus of the same name. This expansion should engagingly complicate the plot; instead, Nashville is bloating with wimpy males.
What's strange about this is that Nashville is, overall, impeccably written. The plot lines may rarely surprise, but the characters' southern drawls all reliably deliver eloquent conversation. The problem is that only the females are outspoken in addition to being well-spoken.
Here's the proof—a list of Nashville's main men, ordered by generally increasing levels of pitifulness:
Deacon: Resident Mr. Heartbroken. Despite claims by others that he is an incredible guitar player and lyricist, all his songs are about Rayna splitting up with him 15 years beforehand.
Gunner: Is that a soul patch? Unsightly facial hair aside, he's so in love with Scarlet (Deacon's niece and another musician) that he can barely write his own material anymore.
Teddy: Rayna's husband, a sometimes philanderer, the new mayor of Nashville, an embezzler of funds and a perpetrator of the housing bubble crisis.
Avery: Scarlet's boyfriend, whose defining characteristic outside of making noise country is his all-consuming jealousy of his girlfriend's success.
It's not that the women's success comes at the expense of these guys. The central females aren't using, exploiting, copying, or stomping over these gentlemen in their scurry to the top. But the central males are holding themselves back, breath bated, awaiting their respective songstresses to decide whether they want to go on tour with them, date them, or ditch them.