‘Hart of Dixie’: A Return to the old WB style
This is the first show born to The CW to actually feel like it could have, and would have, existed on its parent network, The WB.*
‘Hart of Dixie’ is cute and fun, and overall it leaves you with a sense of warmth and happiness at each episode’s end, much like its precursors ‘Everwood’ and ‘Gilmore Girls’. It should be noted that the show films on the old ‘Gilmore Girls’ lot and that comparisons to the long-running WB show set in the small New England town of Stars Hollow, CT are inevitable. It would seem that filming on that lot has allowed that quirky small town atmosphere to have charmed its way into ‘Hart of Dixie’ too.
Rachel Bilson, an actress with whom I’ve had an ongoing love affair since she uttered her first, “Ew!” on ‘The OC’ back in 2003 (has it really been that long? Wow, I’m old.), is wonderful as Dr. Zoe Hart, a cardiothoracic surgeon from New York who loses out on a fellowship because of her terrible bedside manner. Zoe was told that before she could reapply for the fellowship the following year it would be wise for her to spend a year as a general practitioner. She’s exiled to Bluebell, Alabama where a man named Harley Wilkes offered her a job upon her graduation from medical school, and who continues to write to her with invitations to come on down to join him. Upon her arrival Zoe finds out that Harley passed away several months ago. Oh, and that he was her birth father. Drama!
As one would expect, wackiness ensues in the small town full of quirky characters on Alabama’s coast. There’s Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams), former NFL linebacker and current town mayor – and Zoe’s BFF in Bluebell. She lives on the Mayor’s Plantation and spends most of her free time (which she seems to have a lot of despite her profession) with Lavon.
Jason Street George Tucker (Scott Porter), the town lawyer and resident Good Guy necessitated by the Pacey Witter Theorem. George went to law school in New York, but only recently moved back to his hometown to be with his fiancée, Lemon Breeland (Jaime King). Oh, and he’s also the first person Zoe meets upon her arrival – he happens to be driving down the road as she struggles with her luggage in her high heels (she’s not really known for being practical about her wardrobe – short shorts?) and offers to give her a ride into Bluebell. Because apparently the town is so far off the map of civilization that the nearest bus stop is actually not anywhere near it. Naturally, Zoe carries a torch for The Guy In Town Everyone Likes because he’s sweet and shares her love of Woody Allen, which is apparently only something People Who’ve Lived in New York can really appreciate.
George’s fiancée, Lemon, is the daughter of Brick Breeland, the other GP in town with whom Zoe shares a practice. Lemon is the exact definition of a Southern Belle, right down to her annoying obsessions with things like Memory Matrons and her sorority-like group of women known as The Belles. She often dresses like she’s stuck in reruns of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or some other 1950s television show instead of one that premiered in 2011. But for some reason, those crazy outfits seem to suit her, even if they drive me insane.
Last but not least is Bluebell’s own Lothario, Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel), the bartender at the local restaurant,
Merlotte’s the Rammer Jammer. Wade fits the Bad Boy role of the Pacey Witter Theorem to a T. He’s got a heart of gold, that one does. And he’s only a bad boy because he’s misguided and lonely and waiting for the right woman to come along and make him a Changed Man. He’s also Zoe’s neighbor as he resides in the gate house on the Mayor’s Plantation where she lives in the carriage house. The two share a fuse box; wacky spark-filled chemistry ensues between the two opposites. I imagine it’s only a matter of time now before the writers let them give in to the sexual tension that’s been brewing all season long between these two,
The town is fleshed out with secondary and tertiary characters, like Addie, the nurse/receptionist at Zoe’s practice, and Didi, Lavon’s girlfriend and George’s assistant. There’s a trio of gossipy older women who sit on a bench on the town square all day – none of whom are as interesting or well drawn as Stars Hollow’s Miss Patty and Babbette. There’s Tom, the guy in town with a major schoolboy crush on Zoe, and Rose, the teenager who’s basically Zoe’s only female friend in town.
Delia Ann is the queen of Bluebell and the woman Lemon aspires to be, and Annabeth is the most fleshed out character of Lemon’s girlfriends. But despite the size of Bluebell, the show has failed to make me really care about most of the characters we’ve met. ‘Gilmore Girls’ managed to make their townsfolk fun and interesting, even in their small amount of screen time. Sean Gunn’s Kirk Gleason is still one of my favorite television characters. And the show could benefit from finding someone like Michel Gerard or Sookie St. James. I do, however, have my own favorite Bluebellian in Dash DeWitt, or as I like to call him, Carl Winslow. He runs his own blog and shows up everywhere trying to interview people. He can also be found judging the ridiculous town events. And he’s always wearing something fabulous.
Speaking of the town events, the show would be wise to cool it on that front for a bit. From Planksgiving to the Miss Cinnamon Cider Pageant, to the Sweetie Pie Dance and everything in between, the show is quickly running out of possible town events and they’re still in the middle of the first season. These events are supposed to make the town seem quirky, but after awhile they seem tired. This gimmick worked very well on ‘Gilmore Girls’ because they used it sparingly and their events were pretty original. The Bid-a-Basket Festival episode is still one of my favorite episodes of television ever, and I maintain it has nothing to do with Jess outbidding Dean (OK, it might). The Festival of Living Art was another good one, or the one with the snowman building contest. Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Dan, knew when to pull out the events and when to let the characters and the stories do the work. I’m still waiting for the ‘Hart of Dixie’ writers to see that less is more.
And they could take that advice even further by leaving the medical stuff in the background. I understand that the entire premise of the show is that Zoe is this intelligent doctor from New York and that she’s only biding her time in Bluebell until she can reapply for her fellowship, but the show struggles when it attempts to put Zoe in these medical storylines. I don’t think it’s that Rachel Bilson is totally unbelievable sprouting off the names of diseases or other medical jargon, but the show just tends to falter more when there’s a Medical Situation of the Week. The episodes are stunted, unbalanced and awkward when there’s a medical emergency. The show works much better when it focuses more on the characters and their stories rather than trying to make us care about Zoe’s patients, whom we only ever see for the one episode in which they’re suffering from some sort of ailment. If the producers want to see the show’s chances of renewal go up, leave the medical stuff to the wayside. Very few shows can be both a procedural and a serial drama and find success.
At the end of the day, ‘Hart of Dixie’ is a feel good show that doesn’t require you to watch every week (although you should). You can miss an episode and not be confused when you come back to it as you might be with the network’s ‘Vampire Diaries’ or ‘Secret Circle’ where new developments happen every week that throw the show off into another direction. And that’s exactly the type of show the WB used to be famous for. It puts a smile on your face and a little warmth in your heart. And it’s nice to see that the CW has finally achieved that after years of struggling. I hope this show is renewed and that the network continues to find projects like this one. Because without it, it’s still just the network that canceled ‘Veronica Mars’ but let live ‘90210’ and ‘Gossip Girl’.
*It could be argued that ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is this generation’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, and therefore, also a CW-born show in the vein of the WB, but for the sake of my sanity and for the point of this post, I’m going to ignore that. I’ve already discussed how similar ‘TVD’ is to ‘Buffy’, and you can read those posts by clicking here, here, and here.
Note: Photo courtesy of the CW.