Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hart of Dixie sure to touch your heart

     The CW's newest drama is Hart of Dixie. Rachel Bilson (The O.C.) stars as Zoe Hart, a wannabe surgeon from New York City who is asked to try working at a general practice for a year to improve her bedside manner before being given a fellowship that she really wants. Zoe decides to finally take up an old man's offer in the "Pilot." The old man is named Harley, and he approached her at her graduation speech, trying to recruit her. He has been sending her post cards ever since. Zoe arrives in Bluebell, Alabama, only to learn that Harley has died, leaving her his half of a practice. The town is resistant to the new doc, until she saves the day. Zoe is reluctant to stay, feeling very much the fish-out-of-water around the Southern belles, until she finds out that Harley was her biological father.

     While Hart of Dixie may be new, it has much more in common with the WB shows that predate the CW. It's heartwarming, sweet, and keeps the bitchy mean girls to a minimum. It's quite a welcome respite, and while certainly not fresh, it is unlike almost anything else on American network television. This gives it an edge. I specify American TV because the British have a similar show called Doc Martin with a much surlier lead character.

     Bilson is very good with the personal drama. Zoe's instant bonding with Mayor Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams, Grey's Anatomy, Friday Night Lights) is cute, as is her attraction to George Tucker (Scott Porter, Friday Night Lights, The Good Wife). Zoe's encounter with the alligator Burt Reynolds is hilarious! Equally cool is Bilson's chemistry with Nancy Travis (Becker), who will unfortunately soon be leaving the series to star in Last Man Standing opposite Tim Allen. Maybe that series will be canceled quickly, and she can return? Also, the back story of learning that Harley is Zoe's dad is interesting, setting up a long personal development arc.

     It's great to see Zoe stand up to Lemon Breeland (Jaime King, My Generation, Gary Unmarried), George's fiancé, without being overly confrontational. Also nice is a glimpse of Lemon and George happy together, indicating that they once had something true, and still might, under the right circumstances. This is different than many shows, which would cast the male romantic lead's love interest purely as a villain, at least for quite awhile, before humanizing her. Hart of Dixie doesn't wait, and does it in the "Pilot." The other "bad guys," Wade (Wilson Bethel, The Young and the Restless) and Lemon's father Brick (Tim Matheson, Burn Notice, The West Wing) are equally layered.

     The problem that Hart of Dixie faces is that Bilson is much less convincing than she needs to be as a doctor. Her story of helping Mabel (Ann Mahoney) is touching, but poorly executed. Not only does Zoe have instant bedside manner, an oddity, considering why she is sent to Bluebell, but anytime she talks the medical jargon, it just doesn't seem realistic. It's Bilson's limitations that hurt the show, but those can be worked around by not showing her actually doctoring all that much. Other than that, it's a pretty good series.

     Watch Hart of Dixie Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.

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