New fall season: CW's Hart of Dixie goes south without too many hick-ups
09/26/11 12:26 PM
Premiering: Monday, Sept. 26th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Rachel Bilson, Scott Porter, Jaime King, Wilson Bethel, Cress Williams
Produced by: Leila Gerstein, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein, Jason Ensler
By ED BARK
Nicely spiced by broad but interesting characters, Hart of Dixie easily is the most grounded of The CW's three new fish-out-of-water serial dramas. Even if the network's latest transplanted young woman immediately throws her fried fish-out-of-water into the trash basket rather than eat it for lunch.
This one is set in fictional Bluebell, Alabammy, where nose-in-the-air Dr. Zoey Hart (Rachel Bilson from The O.C.) finds herself after failing to get a cardio-thoracic surgeon fellowship while interning in New York City.
Basically, her beside manners have never been operative. And when advised to go into general practice for a year, she scrunches up and says, "First of all, diarrhea and diaper rash -- ewww."
But Zoe ends up reluctantly responding to a series of postcards sent by a mysterious elderly gent who attended her college graduation four years earlier. He had kept inviting her to work at his small general practice in Bluebell, which is so remote that the bus taking her there doesn't get any closer than three miles away. Left to walk the rest of the distance on a country road, Zoe luckily encounters a handsome, refined attorney named George Tucker (Friday Night Lights alum Scott Porter). He's of course driving a pickup truck, because that appears to be the area's only mode of transportation. But he's nice 'n' friendly and loyal to his hometown after his own brief stay in Manhattan proved to be less than satisfactory.
"You can call it what you want," George says of Bluebell. "But I call it home."
Zoe gets her shots in early, initially dismissing Bluebell as a backwards hillbilly haven. The sight of southern belles dancing in Civil War dresses puts her off her feed more than the slathered fried catfish does.
"OK, someone needs to tell the people in this town that it's 2011," she says before dressing down a blonde throwback named Lemon Breeland (Jaime King) as "some southern xenophobe dressed up like a stick of butter."
But it gets better. Bilson's Zoe is appealing in her own stuck-up way, and her encounters with various townies are surprisingly well-played. One of them unfortunately won't be around much longer. Nancy Travis, cast as a down-home doctor's assistant named Emeline Hattenbarger, will be co-starring as Tim Allen's wife in ABC's upcoming Last Man Standing sitcom. So she'll have time for just one more episode of Hart before moving on.
Burt Reynolds, the name given to a roaming town alligator, also is being written out because he just didn't take direction very well, producers of the show told TV writers at the recent Television Critics Association "press tour." And Tim Matheson's flinty Dr. Brick Breeland -- "Believe you me, Zoe Hart, we are going to chase you away from our waters" -- will be at best a recurring character, although he'll appear in eight of the first 13 scheduled episodes.
There are still enough weekly regular characters under contract, though. Cress Williams (also from Friday Night Lights) is instantly likable as mayor Lavon Hayes. He's a self-assured former NFL star who refers to himself in the third person and got elected because of his longstanding football fame. Also residing in Bluebell is ladies man and would-be country rocker Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel), who tells Zoe she's "drunk as a boiled owl" before she impulsively makes out with him in his -- but of course -- pickup truck.
Hart of Dixie also afflicts Zoe with a domineering mom who blows into Bluebell to rescue her daughter from this living hell before a fairly surprising twist leaves her fresh out of ammo. By this time, Zoe has already come to the aid of a portly country girl with a belittling mother and a baby on the way.
The series overdoes it a bit with the banjo music and has a little too much narrative from Zoe. Still, it's an inviting first hour, with plenty of room to grow via a cast of solidly drawn central characters and whatever patients of the week pop into Zoe's new practice. There's nothing here to suggest that Hart of Dixie will cure cancer or garner any Emmy nominations. But it goes down pretty easy if you'd like to set down for a spell with a disarmingly pleasant little down-home melodrama.