The pilot for “Nashville” was, hands down, my favorite of the year. The music, the cast, the concept — all of it seemed poised to be a heady mix of soap,”All About Eve,” youthful striving, and middle-aged regret set to a beat. But then, the road became rocky — and the first characters to falter were Gunnar and Scarlett.
Don’t get me wrong. The reason I’m frustrated with these two (and a few others on the show) is that, especially with such strong actors playing these roles, I really want to believe the powers that be can correct course (which I also believe of the show overall). I’m still hooked on “Nashville,” but lately I feel as if the show is trying to make me watch “Chicago Fire” instead.
That Gunnar Scott and Scarlett O’Connor started off on the wrong foot is still somewhat hard for me to believe. The actors playing these roles — Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio — are adorable and indisputably talented. No, what was failing them at the jump was the storyline, which read like something out of an old copy of Teen magazine or bad fan fiction. Gunnar loves Scarlett! But Scarlett is involved with Avery (“General Hospital” veteran Jonathan Jackson), who’s a selfish jerk! Gunnar pines, Scarlett feels a bizarre sense of loyalty to her crappy boyfriend, rinse, repeat. Gunnar and Scarlett slogged through the paces with admirable pluck, and several of the songs they performed during this period of doe-eyed longing were emotionally resonant. But it seemed like the talent in this triangle was cruelly wasted.
But then, finally, things got interesting. Gunnar and Scarlett got a songwriting contract, Avery and Scarlett broke up, and the star crossed should-be-lovers became roommates. It all seemed so promising. At least, for a while.
1) The jerkwad version of Gunnar wasn’t just unlikable; it was unconvincing
When Gunnar’s brother was beaten to death, we knew it would be difficult for him to process. He would grieve, might drink, maybe act out. But what initially seemed like an opportunity for Scarlett (and us) to learn more about Gunnar’s difficult upbringing basically became an excuse to turn the show’s most wholeheartedly nice guy into a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde — he didn’t just act out; he became a raging jerk. Palladio did his best with, essentially, a brand new character, but no actor could camouflage what was, essentially, sloppy character development.
2) Gunnar’s brother could have been interesting instead of a quickie plot point
Speaking of Jason (David Clayton Rogers), the idea that Gunnar had an ex-con brother seemed like a rich vein of conflict for the show to mine. Scarlett’s initial resistance to a parole-breaker staying in their house was logical and justifiable, as was Gunnar’s reluctance to leave his brother out in the cold. So many things could have happened — Gunnar could have gotten Jason a job and stolen from his new employer, Jason could have robbed a friend of Gunnar and Scarlett’s, Jason could have actually gone straight but never fully regain the trust of his brother or maybe his brother’s girlfriend (and mirror the relationship Juliette has with her mom), but who knows? Three episodes and he was dead. R.I.P., Jason Scott.
3) Hailey disappeared
Since Scarlett wasted time with Avery, it was only fair that Gunnar find a companion as well. Hailey (Chloe Bennet), unlike Avery, actually seemed to have the potential to stick around. The fact that she, Gunnar and Scarlett actually worked in the same office suggested many more painfully awkward run-ins than what we got, but more importantly, Hailey was smart, funny and pragmatic. She wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, so it was easy enough for her to let Gunnar slip through her fingers and shrug off the whole experience. It’s a shame, as seeing her in last night’s episode talking to Avery was just a reminder that a character who seemed a little more fully realized than even some more important players has been shuffled to the background.
4) Scarlett’s spine seems to have an off-on switch
When Scarlett finally broke up with Avery, she appeared to have found her inner feisty. She threw out his stuff, demanded he give her the money he owed her, and seemed to have become a little tougher and less trusting. And when Gunnar blew off their rehearsal for a record deal with Rayna, she had no problem telling him off. But when Gunnar starts treating her like an annoying Chihuahua instead of the girl he’s been mooning over for months, she curled up like a frightened armadillo. While seeing Gunnar change so dramatically would understandably throw her for a loop, I kept wanting to ask the real Scarlett to please stand up.
5) When Gunnar acts like a pouty, jealous boyfriend, he seems far too aware of his douchebag behavior to have acted that way in the first place
In last night’s episode, Gunnar and Scarlett’s storyline seemed to be crafted for the express purpose of having a gooey moment of forgiveness instead of allowing these two characters to actually act like themselves. A month has passed, and Gunnar and Scarlett are happily boyfriend-girlfriend — until Gunnar finds out that Scarlett has been offered the record deal as a solo act. He then proceeds to pout, ignoring her when she cooks dinner for him and the new upstairs roommate Will (they play guitar together, treating the one person who actually has label attention like a house slave) and generally seems to be seething with jealousy. That is, until he tells Scarlett he isn’t Avery — he’s been upset because she didn’t trust him enough to tell him about the record deal when she first was approached. Oh. Well, that makes… no sense at all. For some reason, he’s suddenly able to articulate his behavior, what it’s really based on, and how she might think he’s like her ex-boyfriend. If he’s that evolved, he would have known not to act like a jealous jerk in the first place. Really, the episode almost feels like an edition of “Punk’d” — your boyfriend’s a jerk! No, he’s not! Gotcha!
Scarlett and Gunnar have a lot more potential than what they’ve shown in the last few weeks. To have two actors this appealing, this talented and this gosh darn cute go to waste makes no sense. While I’m always happy to hear Bowen and Palladio sing, what I really want is for these characters to harmonize more effectively. I’ve also got some issues with Deacon’s happy new relationship, but that’s for another time.
Do you think Gunnar and Scarlett have made sense lately?