Most American TV is focussed on the urban middle-classes in major metropolitan areas, but every so often they remember that dotted in between the big cities are tens of thousands of smaller settlements, and that maybe they’d like something aimed at them (and so might city sophisticates who like the idea of small town charm). That’s where Hart Of Dixie fits on the spectrum, a show you’d be forgiven for never having heard of, as in the UK its first series was tucked away on the TV channel Really.
Now it’s coming to DVD, so you can catch up if it sounds like the sort of thing you’d like. If you’re a fan of Gilmore Girls, for example (the tone of which Hart Of Dixie often seems to borrow from liberally), this should be right up your street.
Dr. Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) is on track to be a surgeon, but she doesn’t get the position she wants due to her boss feeling her bedside manner needs a lot of work. He suggests she goes off to be a GP for a year, something she really doesn’t want to do. However after she gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she decides that maybe she ought to get out of New York and so heads for the Bluebell, Alabama practice of a man who’s been sending her postcards inviting her to come and work for him.
When she arrives in Bluebell she discovers the man has died, but it’s not long before she finds out why he was sending her postcards – he was her biological father. Zoe decides to give life in Bluebell a try for a year, taking over her dad’s practice. However that doesn’t impress his partner, Dr. Brick Breeland (Tim Matheson), who doesn’t want this big city interloper in his surgery, especially as she knows nothing about the way small town life works. As well as trying to build up her practice (she could lose it if she doesn’t get enough patients), Zoe also gets caught up in a bit of a love triangle between good boy lawyer George Tucker (Scott Porter) and charming bad boy wastrel Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel). If that weren’t enough, she manages to make an enemy of George’s fiancée Lemon (yes, she’s really called Lemon), a stereotypical southern belle who believes Zoe looks down on all the traditions she holds dear.
From its title onwards, Hart Of Dixie is one of those shows that should be cheesy, dreadful nonsense that makes even the least sophisticated viewer heave. However it’s all oddly charming and far more watchable that it really ought to be. Admittedly it does have the whiff of people sitting in Hollywood offices creating an idealised stereotype of life in the American South (which occasionally borders on being a little offensively stereotyped), based on an idea of small town life that never existed. It works though. That’s partly because it fits with city dwellers’ idea of what they’d like to think life in the sticks is like, as well as the romanticised view small town people often have of the way they think things should be.
It’s sweet and very gentle, the kind of show that simply sets out to be pleasant for an hour. That may sound like a criticism, but it’s not. There’s a place for intellectual shows, series about crime and the dark side of humanity, sci-fi shows that demand you pay attention and everything in between, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something that’s relatively warm and fuzzy, focussing on the gentler side of life. In fact I started getting a bit annoyed with the plotline about Brick Breeland trying to get Zoe out of the doctor’s surgery, as it seemed a little bit mean. In most shows it would be the smallest of things, but here it feels slightly against the grain of a show where most of the time the conflict comes from people battling it out to see who can be the most nice and honourable (well, it’s not quite that nice, but it sometimes seems like it).
I know a lot of people reading this will find the idea of something so determinedly pleasant nauseating, but it’s worth giving a try, as you may well find it’s one of those shows that becomes a guilty pleasure. Even I avoided it when it was on TV as the whole idea of the show sounded hideous. Then I started watching so I could write this review and I have to admit that within a couple of episodes I was hooked. Will Zoe get together with the seemingly perfect George, or is he far too honourable (and engaged)? Perhaps Wade would be a better choice, even if he’s a bit of a hound. And with everything surrounded by an over the top but charming evocation of small town life, I liked it a lot.
Special features include some deleted scenes, a gag reel and a featurette called ‘Straight from the Hart of Dixie’, which focuses on the creation of the show and the cast’s journey through the first season. To be honest, it’s not the greatest selection of extras, but the featurette is worth a watch once you’ve finished the season, even if it is a little gushy with everyone seeming rather pleased with themselves.
Overall Verdict: Hart Of Dixie is the kind of show that on paper sounds rather tedious and nauseating, but it possesses a charm and gentle nature that helps pull it through. If you fancy something that’s not too demanding and which will reinforce the idea that most people are generally decent, you could do a lot worse.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac