September 27th, 2011
12:43 PM ET
The new CW dramedy “Hart of Dixie” uses a formula that has succeeded previously on screens both big (“Doc Hollywood”) and small (“Northern Exposure”): A big city doctor who's fish-out-of-water in a quaint small town.
In the new show, Rachel Bilson plays Zoe Hart, a young doctor whose dreams of being a cardiothoracic surgeon are derailed by her emotionless approach to medicine, forcing her to head south to Bluebell, Alabama for a year as a general practitioner.
(Before we go any further, know that we’re going to mention one big spoiler. So if you haven’t watched yet and plan to, stop reading now.)
By all accounts, I should not like “Hart of Dixie.” I’ve never watched a CW series before. I’m squarely outside of the network’s target audience. I’m from the South and am prone to knee-jerk defensiveness when it comes to Hollywood’s take on what a Southern town is like.
And yet, the pilot episode for this show kind of won me over, almost exclusively because of the strong cast.
Bilson’s Zoe comes with a fair amount of edge and attitude, which doesn't help as she attempts to integrate into her new environment. But she fleshes out into a real character through moments of strength and humor, as well as when she plays off other cast members.
That includes a pair of potential love interests: all-American lawyer George Tucker (Scott Porter) and bad-boy-next door Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel).
Jamie King plays Tucker’s fiancé and Southern belle Lemon, whose father Brick (Tim Matheson) is the other doctor in town. Cress Williams and Nancy Travis round out the cast in the pilot, playing Bluebell’s mayor and Zoe’s nurse/confidante, respectively.
The plot plays out pretty predictably. After Zoe loses out on a fellowship in NYC, she heads to Bluebell, home of a Dr. Harley Wilkes, who’s been sending her postcards trying to entice her to join his practice ever since her medical school graduation four years earlier.
It turns out Harley has died and mysteriously left his half of the practice to Zoe. She proceeds to run afoul of nearly everyone in town. Having decided to head back home, she’s called into action by a young pregnant patient named Mabel, who is determined to have Zoe perform the delivery.
This is the scene that turned the tide for me. Zoe’s determination in handling the spontaneous birth, buoyed by Mabel’s staunch loyalty to the young doctor, allowed me to believe Bilson as a top-notch medical professional. Plus, it gave the first glimpses of Dr. Hart developing a human connection with her patients.
The final straw in Zoe’s decision to stay comes courtesy of our big spoiler: Harley was Zoe’s real dad, the result of an affair when her mother was engaged. It’s played like a big deal, but honestly, this plot point could have been skipped entirely and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
I may or may not check out more episodes of “Hart of Dixie.” But if I do, it will most certainly be because of the cast. Their collective charm shines through all of their performances, whether they’re being abrasive (Zoe), unfailingly polite (George), politely hateful (Lemon) or downright ornery (Brick).
Do you think “Hart of Dixie” is a worthy entry in the fish-out-of-water genre? Were you won over by the cast of familiar faces? Or did the premiere leave you wishing you’d never heard of Bluebell, Alabama? Sound off in the comments below!
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