Things literally heat up on many levels in tonight's episode of the freshman CW series "Hart of Dixie" when a heat wave causes the residents of Bluebell, Alabama to let 'the fever' take over their desires and libidos. At the center, of course, is newest transplant Zoe Hart (played by Rachel Bilson) who is trying to make sense of her attraction to neighbor Wade (Wilson Bethel) and also to town lawyer George (Scott Porter) who happens to be engaged to Lemon (Jaime King). How is series creator Leila Gerstein navigating the push and pull of the many Bluebell love triangles? Will the heat take over the town's senses? And what exactly is the backstory between Lemon and Bluebell's Mayor Levon Hayes (Cress Williams)?
Our Jim Halterman found out the answers to these questions and more at an advanced screening last week at the CW offices in Burbank of tonight's "In Havoc & In Heat" episode. Gerstein, Williams, Porter, King and Bethel were all present for a Q&A, which took place before the announcement came down that the CW had ordered a full-season of episodes for the new series.
One thing you can't help but notice from watching "Hart of Dixie" is that love triangles are in abundance in the small Southern town but that's not just a happy accident, according to Gerstein, who is keeping a tight grip on the pace of how these relationships play out. "I think it's always a challenge to be able to give the audience enough of what they want without making the story move too fast. I hope we are finding a good balance on that. I think the nature of this show allows us to move slower, which is good because then it's much more push and pull." She also added that it helps to know what kind of show they are not. "['Hart of Dixie'] is not a soap. It is not moving at the pace of 'Gossip Girl.' It's the opposite of 'Gossip Girl' in terms of pace... we're milking the deliciousness a little bit. We're giving you a little bit, we're teasing you a little bit and hoping you're coming back for more."
King is also a fan of how the writers are handling the pacing of the stories and added, "I think that there are so many shows on the air right now where they go full-force all the time and then in a way it makes it really bland because it's always scandalous or it's always something major happening and I don't think life flows like that and so, watching this show, it has more of a natural flow to the way that drama goes on in your life."
The many love triangles in the show make sense to Bethel, who explained how these types of romantic complications can arise. "At any given time no matter how deeply you are in love with one person, they're appealing to a very specific side of you and I think what's so great about the kind of dynamism of the kind of characters that we have is that at any given time, George is appealing to a certain side of Zoe and Wade is appealing to a very different side of her. Levon is appealing to one side of Lemon and George is appealing to a different side. That's what makes, I think, the love triangles really believable because the characters that are rounding out the equilateral triangles are believably appealing to different enough sides of the characters in the mix."
One of the key love triangles in the show is between Lemon, George and Levon (with a hint of Zoe in terms of her shared attraction with the unavailable George). While viewers have not yet been let in on what exactly went on in the past between Lemon and Levon, viewers will see hints of lingering feelings pop up in tonight's episode. One thing, however, that won't be made a story point is the fact that Lemon is white and Levon is black. "I never really thought about race at all," said Williams. Instead, he said, "We're dealing with the behavioral issues of a love triangle that everyone can identify with. If you don't necessarily hammer race on it, it's really something that is easily identifiable." King shared Williams' opinion and said, "Our relationship has nothing to do with our race or anything like that. It's just like any other relationship where you have roadblocks and a lot of different histories that come in between... I like that it's not necessarily about race or anything like that because more people can relate to it."
Gerstein also said that "Hart of Dixie" is not an issue-oriented series like one beloved television drama that featured Porter. "We are not 'Friday Night Lights.' No offense, guys. I loved 'Friday Night Lights' and I think it handled all these issues in an incredible way [but] we are not going for hyperrealism in Bluebell."
There is more going on in the southern community of the series than the various romantic entanglements. For example, in tonight's episode we get to meet George's parents, who come to town for a visit and things don't exactly go well. Porter explained that his character "is glad they don't live anywhere near them as of right now. They're far enough away that they have to make an effort to get down to where he is. George has come back to Bluebell and has struck out on his own and you find out he has a brother and you find out more of the interesting kind of elements between him and his parents and why he doesn't necessarily live next to them and why he necessarily was so big on going away and striking out on his own in the first place. It all comes back a few episodes down the pike but you definitely see my parents back... family has an interesting ability to get under your skin like no other and you will see that."
Also in tonight's episode, due to that pesky heat wave, there is a lot of talk about taking a 'free pass' and letting your libido do as it will which is something that the somewhat reserved Zoe has a hard time embracing even when there are shirtless men everywhere she turns. Porter, for one, was not necessarily pleased with physically fit costars Williams and Bethel in more than a few scenes. "The next time I have to take my shirt off it's going to be way too soon... I thought I was done with working with the Taylor Kitsch's of the world [Porter's fit co-star on 'Friday Night Lights'] and then I have to take my shirt off in the same episodes as these two maniacs!?" To this, Williams and Bethel could only reply with laughter.
It's exactly this kind of lightness and fun that drew Porter, a veteran of more serious dramas like "FNL" and "The Good Wife," to the new CW series. "I've done dramatic roles for years," he explained, "and I've wanted to do something that was light and that would make everyone I know smile and would be a place where I would want to spend time at and Bluebell is that place... I know that from the top down - from Leila on down to everyone that is working on the show - we understand what we are and I think that's what's made the show special and will make it special going forward."
Overall, the cast agreed that tonight's episode is one that will draw viewers further into the stories and characters. Bethel said, "I think it's such a fun episode for all of us. This is the first episode where I feel like all of us are shining so much in different ways and all the different dynamics of the relationships are coming out in different ways. I think once this episode airs, people are going to start to see more of the possibility of the show."
One thing we know after last week's announcement is that viewers will at least have 22-episodes to fall in love with "Hart of Dixie." Beyond that, time will tell.
"Hart of Dixie" airs Mondays at 9:00/8:00c on The CW.