High Heels & High Hopes in the Heart of the South.
Dr. Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson, The O.C.) is on track to fulfill her life’s dream: becoming a cardio-thoracic surgeon in New York City. Unfortunately, she’s denied the fellowship she was counting on and now has no idea where to go. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. She has a standing invitation to join an existing practice in BlueBell, Alabama. Since she needs a year in residence as a General Practitioner, this native New Yorker makes the long trek toward a new home where she’ll learn more than just medicine.
Hart of Dixie is a classic fish-out-of-water story. When we meet Zoe, she’s at the top of her game, though lacking in one key area: patient interaction. Sentenced to a year in general practice seriously screws with her life plans…her very detailed, long-standing, obsessively put together life plans. And therein lies the theme of Season One. Sure, we identify with Zoe and spend the season chuckling as she learns to adapt to a way of life much different than her own. But before long, it’s clear Zoe’s arrival has set into motion things which end up changing the lives of most everyone in BlueBell.
While we don’t follow all of the townsfolk for the whole season, there are some folks whose lives becoming entangled in ways that become more complicated once Zoe enters the picture. There’s golden couple Lemon (Jamie King, Pearl Harbor) and George (Scott Porter, Music and Lyrics) whose impending nuptials are the talk of the town, local screw-up and good ol’ boy Wade (Wilson Bethel, The Young and the Restless), and former NFL-star-turned-Mayor Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams, Never Been Kissed). How complicated do things get? Well, Zoe is attracted to Wade but falls for George who’s engaged to Lemon who slept with Lavon who’s still in love with Lemon but she loves George who may still have feelings for Zoe.
And that right there is the curse of Hart of Dixie. By making this a relationship drama, the impetus of the show becomes will-they-or-won’t-they, which is fine but limiting. The series ends up developing fans who are Team Lavon or Team George or Team Wade, and by default a team of viewers who are never happy.
There are a couple of saving graces for the show, which means it doesn’t need to be immediately written off as just another CW clone.
The first is the setting. By creating the mythical town of BlueBell, the writers have added another character to the show. This is a place unlike any other on television, which means it can be home to anything. Staples such as holiday-themed episodes are given new life, where they may feel stale elsewhere. We have Planksgiving, the Sweetie Pie Dance, and the Black Tie Turtle Derby, just to name a few. In fact, everything seems to take place in a town where people are just a bit out of time with modern society. But as the season progresses, we learn this is all by choice, and not by blissful ignorance. The charm comes in learning about this different way of life.
The other saving grace are the performances, most notably those from Rachel Bilson and Jamie King. Zoe could easily be a self-entitled brat, but Bilson’s appeal is that she softens the edges and helps show Zoe as a lost soul looking for her place in the world. And where Lemon could be evil through and through, King lends an air of vulnerability to the character, which allows us to sympathize with her motivations much more readily.
Hart of Dixie works best when the emphasis is on Zoe learning what it means to be a decent neighbor and part of a community. When too much time is spent on the relationship drama, the episodes feel generic. There are growing pains, just like any new series, but the cast and the setting are engaging enough that Hart of Dixie could evolve into a long-running favorite.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, there are a few minor issues with the visuals, most notably compression artifacts due to loading five episodes per disc. In addition, the color palette is a more stylized one than typically sees on a current broadcast show, with white levels near blown-out and a subtle yellow hue added to enhance the disparity between New York and Alabama. These issues don’t necessarily detract from the viewing experience but they are something to consider. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is more than adequate, and that’s not surprising when you consider the number of musical guests and song cues the show employs. The music used is very deliberate and I appreciate the pains taken to ensure sure the levels are properly balanced and layered.
Bonus features are kind of stingy: a handful of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and one featurette. If you were hoping for a commentary (or two or three), you’re out of luck.
Hart of Dixie: The Complete First Season is a show with promise, a relationship drama that sets itself apart thanks to an appealing cast and unusual location. I’m recommending streaming, if you’re interested, because the paltry special features don’t justify a purchase.