For a show that ended with such high drama after its first season, "Nashville" started off the second season with a lackluster effort.
The glittery pop and pizzazz paired with high-energy songs viewers have come to crave was nowhere to be found in the premier, perhaps understandably as aging country legend Rayna Jaymes – played by the inestimable Connie Britton – lay in the hospital in a drug-induced coma for most of the episode. Instead, the show slow-walked viewers through the remaining rubble of each character's life after paternity revelations, drunken car crashes and relapses wreaked havoc at the end of the first season.
The high points came through flashbacks to Deacon Claybourne and Rayna's ill-fated night when Rayna's eldest daughter – Maddie – was conceived, showing viewers both their wide-eyed, puppy dog love and eventually the destructive nature of Deacon's alcoholism that pulled them apart. The killer flashback exchange happened near the end of the episode, when Rayna confronted Deacon after finding him passed out among liquor bottles the morning after he proposed to her, vowing sobriety.
"Were you drunk last night when you asked me?" she yelled.
"When I asked you what? What, baby?" he replied blankly.
Meanwhile, Hayden Panettiere's Juliette Barnes continued her wiley ways, seeking to both score big record sales and fill the hole in her heart left by her now-dead addict mother. In delicious devilish fashion, Juliette schemes to out-sell Rayna even as she lay in the hospital.
"My album drops tomorrow. If she's holding on to No. 1, you know what that means for me?" she cried to her faithful manager. "It's hard enough to bust out of this tween demo, now I have to compete with the saint in a coma!"
Juliette played the audience like she did the whole first season, offering convincing evidence that she's downright nasty, before accidentally falling into an older-sister-type role with Maddie, who feels that her prying into her past to find out that Deacon – and not Teddy Conrad, Rayna's longtime husband – was her real dad, led to Deacon's most recent relapse and the car accident.
"We are not responsible for any of this," Juliette tells Maddie, putting her cell phone number into Maddie's phone.
Scarlett O'Conner, Deacon's niece and budding starlet in her own right now that she's signed to Rayna's new music label, is navigating shark-infested waters of her own. Former flame Avery, who has found his path playing back-up for Juliette and filled the episode with pining looks aimed at Scarlett and most recent ex-beau, Gunnar, who is working to turn back temptation and return to the straight and narrow. He and Scarlett get back to the stuff everyone who fell in love with "Nashville" last year wants to see by singing sweetly and hauntingly to each other at the famed Bluebird Cafe, with a jealous Avery looking on.
Much of the rest of the show was filled with tried-and-true soap opera schtick: Teddy, Rayna's kind of husband, is told by his scheming former lover she is having his baby, even though it's a miscarriage. Law enforcement hints to Rayna's sister that their father was involved in their mother's death, which was supposedly a car accident.
And Will, Gunnar's new pal, is struggling with a case of "Brokeback Mountain" – a tough country cowboy who prefers the company of men but can't reconcile himself to it.
If anything, it was telling how much Britton carries the show that it all feels flat without her. But with her character's recovery from the car accident, the show has a decent shot of recapturing its first-season magic.