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Television review: 'Hart of Dixie'

Rachel Bilson stars as a driven doctor whose career is detoured to small-town Alabama.

September 26, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Tim Matheson and Rachel Bilson in "Hart of Dixie."
Tim Matheson and Rachel Bilson in "Hart of Dixie." (Michael Yarish / The CW )

What is it with surgeons and their cold, cold hearts? Last week, CBS sent a ghost to help Patrick Wilson's driven doc find his inner humanity on "A Gifted Man"; Monday, the CW sends the Manhattan-centric Dr. Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) miles below the Mason-Dixon Line to find hers. ("Hart of Dixie," get it?)

The idea that a small town has a more charitable sense of community than a big city rings true mostly to big-city dwellers who have never lived in a small town, while the notion that the folks of Bluebell, Ala., are somehow more real than the folks of New York is a canard certain politicians have been enthusiastically shopping around for some time now.

Fortunately, "Hart of Dixie" creator Leila Gerstein and producers (and "O.C." veterans) Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage are not asking you to think too hard or too much or at all really. "Hart of Dixie" is a stack of familiar scenarios stitched together to form a pretty if not terribly substantial quilt, of the sort Zoe encounters in Bluebell.

Where, of course, she never intended to end up. From the moment we meet her giving her medical school commencement speech, we understand that Zoe is Uptight and Driven. As she informs the kindly, older doctor who approaches her after the speech with a job offer in Alabama, she has a Plan. She will go with her med school boyfriend to New York, where she will win a coveted internship and become a cardio-thoracic surgeon just like her father, whom she will join in his practice.

Of course, we all know what happens to Driven Girls with Plans — they get derailed. "Go into private practice and earn some bedside manner," the head of surgery tells her. Does she pause to wonder if this is because she is a woman? No, she does not; she applies cellphone to ear and calls Alabama to tell the ol' GP that she's a-comin'.

By bus no less, because apparently Bluebell exists in that part of Alabama not serviced by even a minor airport, and then by foot, because what is cuter than a woman in high heels dragging her luggage down a country road? Nothing! Nothing is cuter or more woebegone, and nothing else would enable Zoe to meet the town's handsome lawyer, Scott Porter (George Tucker), who gives her a lift in his pickup.

And so it goes. Zoe doing her Fish Out of Water thing and everyone else just as dutifully living up to stereotype. The no-nonsense assistant (Nancy Travis, who quickly decamped to "Last Man Standing"), Wade (Wilson Bethel), the rakish ne'er do-well; the fascist Dr. Brick Breeland (Tim Matheson) who shares Zoe's practice, and his Queen Bee daughter Lemon (Jaime King). Lemon is also engaged to the chivalrous Scott, who is Much Too Good For Her.

The only mildly interesting character (and apparently the only person of color in Bluebell) is the mayor, former football star Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams), but his part, in the pilot anyway, is small. JoBeth Williams also makes a couple of appearances as Zoe's nightmare mother who is, one assumes, the person to blame for all of Zoe's blind ambition. Which will be softened by a small Southern town that is lovely to look at but, like the show itself, is more about moving pieces around a set than telling a new or interesting story.

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