Zoe’s Heart: What ‘Hart of Dixie’ got right … and what it didn’t
It’s been a week since ‘Hart of Dixie’ ended its freshman season on the CW. I had hoped to be able to make a post about the finale itself, but let’s be honest, if I’d posted an update within those first 48 hours, it probably would have just been a screencap of a shirtless Wilson Bethel with the words, “WOO HOO!” in size 72 bold font underneath.
My brain wasn’t really functioning those first couple of days after the finale aired. I will admit to watching the scene where Zoe and Wade finally had sex about, I don’t know, 12 times or so. But who’s counting? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, anyway; that scene was hott (not a typo – it literally needs two Ts to showcase the hotness).
I’d waited for what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality only 21 of the longest episodes of my life, for Zoe to give in to her sparkling chemistry with the local bartender and Casanova with a heart of gold. And while most of the time I was alternating between throwing things at my television and drooling on my keyboard, the show did have some great moments along the way (Dash Dewitt, every scene involving Cress Williams’ Lavon Hayes that wasn’t about his relationship with Lemon, Annabeth, every crack at Zoe’s formal shorts).
And while I was frustrated that the writers kept bringing Zoe and Wade closer together only to rip them apart, those 21 episodes leading up to the finale did a wonderful job building up the sexual tension between the two. It did such a great job that the moments in the barn between Zoe and Wade felt real. I could understand Wade’s frustration with her. I could see how he felt that he’d rather be out in the storm than stuck in a barn with someone as shallow and stubborn as Zoe. And the scene later on in the episode where she intentionally blew the fuse in order to make her intentions known to Wade was all the better for the long wait.
But before this post becomes about Zoe and Wade, or an ode to Wilson Bethel’s workout regimen, let’s break down what worked this season and what didn’t. Because we were lucky enough to earn a second season and I don’t want to see the show make any more missteps.
1. Lavon Hayes: former NFL linebacker, current town mayor, and resident best friend to Dr. Zoe Hart
In order for shows like these to work – i.e. shows that desperately want to evoke the feel good feelings of the old WB shows like ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘Felicity’ and ‘Everwood’ – there has to be an element of friendship.
The lead character has to have someone to confide in, someone that is there at the end of the day (or episode) for the lead to talk to about their day, to bounce ideas off of, to eat ice cream with. It’s just the way it is. And Lavon is that person for Zoe. He’s the Lorelai to her Rory. The Willow to her Buffy. The Ryan to her Seth. And the parts of the episodes where Zoe and Lavon’s storylines intersected were the most heartwarming of all the stories this season.
Do you need evidence? Aside from the obvious moments at the end of the episodes in which it was just the two of them hanging out in Lavon’s kitchen, there were other more significant moments.
For example, did you cheer when Zoe stormed into Lavon’s house ready to complain about George getting back together with Lemon only to walk in on the communal bitch session, after which Lavon told her she had to leave? Lavon played the dutiful role of the levelheaded best friend all season, and he told her what she was doing was wrong and stupid and she ignored his advice. In the process she hurt herself, she confused George, and she potentially ruined any chance at ever having even the weakest of friendships with Wade, the only other person in Bluebell who’d ever been there for her.
Lavon is a true friend, one who isn’t afraid to tell Zoe when she’s in the wrong or acting like a spoiled and shallow brat. But at the end of the day, he can still be there for her, to talk her down, to set her straight. And their friendship remains strong because of that, not in spite of it.
If there’s one aspect of this show the writers nailed every single time, it was this friendship. It was the one constant that held the show together and made it feel like the old shows of yesterday.
2. Wade Kinsella: town bartender and resident golden boy charmer dreaming of something better
I didn’t even know the name Wilson Bethel before this show premiered, and now it seems that I’ve spammed his face (and perfect abdominal muscles) far more than I’ve spammed anyone else’s lately. I can’t remember which critic said it, but they said they believed ‘Hart of Dixie’ needed Wilson Bethel more than Wilson Bethel needed ‘Hart of Dixie,’ and I completely agree with that statement.
The show needs him because without him the show lacks depth and interesting story lines. Without him the show is just the story of a shallow doctor who’s chasing after a cardboard character she thinks is perfect. I think it’s a testament to Bethel that Wade Kinsella turned out to be the real heart and soul of this show (I’m going to go ahead and dub this the Tim Riggins Phenomenon – look for that post to come soon).
His character could have easily been a one note character. He was the sexy town Lothario with a lazy smile and southern charm coming out of every orifice. It was possible that he’d never be more than just her annoying neighbor who liked to take his shirt off and tease her with sexual innuendos. But Bethel took on the role and made Wade more than just a pretty face. He was funny, he was charming, he had surprisingly more depth than town good guy George Tucker. And once a month he sings his drunk father off the roof of a building. You can’t compete with that.
It also didn’t hurt that Bethel and Bilson seem to radiate the kind of chemistry that most shows can only hope to find between their actors. It seems to come naturally, so naturally that if someone told me the actors were in a real relationship, I wouldn’t even second guess it. Their scenes are steamy and sexy and don’t need actual dialogue to convey emotion. The show needs to do nothing to this character, except make Zoe fall head over heels in love with him.
1. The Medical
This show was fashioned around the idea of Zoe being a hotshot surgeon from New York who is basically banished to a backwater town in Alabama in order to learn some manners – not just the kind one needs at the bedside, but some real, honest-to-goodness humankind manners.
But the problem with that is that, while Rachel Bilson can rattle of medical jargon easily enough, she just isn’t really believable as a surgeon. When I say that it doesn’t mean the show isn’t any good – because it is. The show just happens to be stronger and more enjoyable in the episodes that are medical-lite. It’s fine when the office is used simply as a prop, but when Zoe actually has a medical emergency, the show seems to falter. If the show wants to find more success in its sophomore season, the writers and producers would be wise to focus more on the character development that got it there in the first place.
2. Lemon Breeland
Lemon is a 2D caricature of what people know or think they know about Southern Belles. She’s uptight, she has to have everything perfect, she doesn’t work and yet she’s constantly stressed or complaining about how busy she is. The only times I’ve ever liked Lemon were when she got drunk with Wade, pulled the prank with George and Wade, punched George in the face, and when she went to confront
Andie McPhee her mother and saw her with her new family. All of those were when she got the opportunity to show some real emotion or let loose and have some fun.
Lemon’s affair with Lavon was the one and only thing that made her remotely interesting and none of it actually happened on screen. I don’t mean to say that I want her in a relationship with Lavon, because I’ve had just about enough of the Lemon/Lavon drama for the rest of my life, but I think it’s time for Lemon to become a real character.
Make her something more than just a wedding-obsessed (jilted) bride. Give her a story that doesn’t revolve around how uptight she is, give her some depth and I think she could become a character that I’d really like.
1. George Tucker
It pains me to write this because of how deeply I associate Scott Porter with happy feelings. I’m convinced that there is no greater television show in the history of the medium than NBC/DirecTV’s ‘Friday Night Lights’ and Scott Porter’s Jason Street is only one of the reasons for that. I so badly wanted to like George simply because his face is the same face that once uttered “Texas Forever” and clinked beers with the one and only Tim Riggins, but at the end of the day I have to admit that I simply don’t like George.
But I don’t think it’s Scott’s fault. The writers just never gave George enough meat to really flesh out his character. He only seemed to be around to make Lemon seem slightly less crazy, or for Zoe to admire from afar. His character would have benefited from more stories like the one involving his father – but even that one didn’t really resonate the way it should have. He sometimes felt like a cardboard cutout of who he was supposed to be.
George Tucker: town lawyer, good guy, went to New York, returned home to be with his southern bride. Scott seemed to give it his all, but I never felt like I truly got to know George the way I got to know Wade. And I’m hoping that now that he’s broken off his engagement (for good this time) to Lemon, that we’ll get the chance to see a more fun, less uptight, version of George.
I’m not saying I want him to be with Zoe – because Lord knows I’m a devout Zade shipper (12 times I watched that scene, remember?) – but I want to see more of the carefree man he’s sometimes allowed to be. I want to like him. And not just because he’s Jason Street.
2. Zoe Hart
It might seem odd that I’ve placed the show’s titular heroine this far down on the list, but I have my reasons.
It isn’t uncommon for shows to have unlikeable lead characters with faults. In fact, most of the time it’s because of these faults that these shows find success. No one likes a character who is good all the time or who always does the right thing. Not even Rory Gilmore did the right thing all the time and she was basically the poster child for Doing The Right Thing.
Shows these days thrive on the presence of the antihero, the character who acts against the rules of society, who is the complete opposite of the archetypal hero – think Dexter Morgan or Walter White of ‘Breaking Bad’ – these characters are flawed and do horrible things and yet we’re drawn to them because we want to see just how low they’ll go in their quest for what they thing is right. We live vicariously through these characters because we can’t believe the truly horrible things they do.
But this is not that kind of show. ‘Hart of Dixie’ is not ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and Zoe Hart is not Jax Teller, president of an outlaw motorcycle club. She’s a doctor in southern Alabama on a show on the CW network.
Zoe’s faults are human enough. She wants something – or in her case, someone – she can’t have and she pines for them. But she goes about everything the wrong way. She chases after a married man in a desperate way, climbing over and stepping on people she likes and cares about simply because they’re standing in the way of her making horrible decisions. She’s shallow and she is spoiled. But you can only take a character’s flaws so far before your audience turns on you and gets angry for the character’s inconsiderate actions.
Zoe made progress in the season finale when she tried to leave town so George could get married peacefully. And she made progress when she admitted to herself that she wanted Wade just as much as he wanted her. She was afraid that they were too different, but just as Wade had said, he wasn’t asking her to marry him. He just wanted her to give them a shot so he could prove how well they worked together. But in an instant the writers took away that miniscule forward momentum when they had George show up at her door in the midst of her post-coital cuddle with Wade, and having him tell her he’d left Lemon for good. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he kissed her too. And then she walked back in to her bedroom, where a half-naked Wade Kinsella was in her bed, and she just stood there looking both happy and confused.
I understand the setup. I’m aveteran television fan. But it’s infuriating to watch a show for a season and see a character actually regress in terms of maturity food good decision making. I only hope the writers can find a way for Zoe to grow up – she is almost 30 years old for crying out loud. She needs to start taking responsibility for her actions and she needs tappropriate making reckless decisions on the fly.
I genuinely enjoy Rachel Bilson, but Zoe Hart is an awfullif infuriating character.
Other stray observations:
- I know it’s pointless by now, but the show would be better if it didn’t have the Wacky Town Event of the Week. The bit worked on ‘Gilmore Girls’ because they used it sparingly and creatively. It feels tired and worn out already on this show.
- I like that the show seems to be giving more depth to tertiary townspeople like Tom and Annabeth. ‘Gilmore Girls’ was made better by the existence of the wacky Stars Hollow residents. So many wonderful subplots surrounded people like Kirk and Taylor Doose. And you really felt like you knew Miss Patty and Babette. I hope the writers continue to give voices to the people of Bluebell.
- I still don’t know how I feel about Zoe’s closest female friend being a 14-year-old girl. As long as it plays like a big sister/little sister relationship it can work, but sometimes I think it actually makes Zoe more immature as a person when she gushes about boys and hangs out with Rose.
That’s it folks. We’ve got one season of ‘Hart of Dixie’ under our belts. What did you think? What do you hope season two brings us (besides more shirtless Wade)? Did you watch that scene with Zoe and Wade as many times as I did? Do you really, really want to like George but just don’t?