[06/23/11 - 09:17 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Hart of Dixie" (The CW)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Leila Gerstein; directed by Jason Ensler; TRT: 41:25)

The network's description: "Fast-talking New Yorker and brand new doctor Zoe Hart has it all figured out - after graduating top of her class from medical school, she'll follow in her father's footsteps and become a cardio-thoracic surgeon. But when her dreams fall apart, Zoe decides to accept an offer from a stranger, Dr. Harley Wilkes, to work with him at his small practice in Bluebell, Alabama. Zoe arrives in this small Gulf Coast town only to find that Harley has passed away and left his half of the medical practice to her in his will. She quickly finds that Southern hospitality isn't always so hospitable - the other doctor in town, Brick Breeland, is less than pleased to be sharing the practice with this young outsider, and his daughter, Lemon, is a Southern belle whose sweet disposition turns sour when she meets Zoe. Zoe's only allies are the mayor, former football star Lavon Hayes, her bad-boy neighbor Wade Kinsella, and handsome lawyer George Tucker - who just happens to be Lemon's fiancé.

Zoe is out of her element and ready to pack her bags, but a surprise visit by her snobby New York mother leads to Zoe's decision to stay in Bluebell for a while, discovering small-town life and a side of herself she hadn't known was there. The series stars Rachel Bilson as Dr. Zoe Hart, Jaime King as Lemon Breeland, Wilson Bethel as Wade Kinsella, Cress Williams as Lavon Hayes, McKaley Miller as Rose and Scott Porter as George Tucker. HART OF DIXIE is from Bonanza Productions Inc., in association with Fake Empire, Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television Studios, with executive producers Leila Gerstein ("Gossip Girl," "Eli Stone"), Josh Schwartz ("Gossip Girl," "Chuck," "The O.C."), Stephanie Savage ("Gossip Girl," "The O.C."), Len Goldstein and Jason Ensler ("Gossip Girl," "Chuck"). The pilot was directed by Jason Ensler."

What did they leave out? Emmeline "Mrs. H" Hattenbarger, Nancy Travis's character, is being written out due to her first position status on ABC's new comedy "Last Man Standing."

The plot in a nutshell: Ambitious Manhattan thoracic surgeon Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson), like all selfish characters on television with big plans, is about to have them derailed. "You need to learn to see patients as people to help, not puzzles to solve," her supervisor (Bruce Altman) explains after passing her over for a critical fellowship. "So if you want my recommendation next year, spend the next 12 months as a general practitioner." Even worse, all of the GP jobs in the city have been filled. Much to her chagrin then she's forced to take a job in Bluebell, Alabama, where an ailing family doctor named Harley Wilkes left her half of his practice (don't ask).

There her big city fastidiousness is confronted by a mostly well-meaning cornucopia of small town folk: sassy nurse Mrs. H (Nancy Travis), charming lawyer George (Scott Porter), former NFL-star-turned-mayor Lavon (Cress Williams, whom she rents a room from), town queen bee Lemon (Jaime King) and lothario neighbor Wade (Wilson Bethel). And sure enough they start to win her over with their folksiness - wandering alligators aside. Her change in attitude is of course timed with a daisy chain of mistakes that chip away at her confidence not to mention the threat of losing her job as Lemon's father Brick (Tim Matheson, who owns the other half of Harley's practice) aims to contest the late doctor's will and send our fair city slicker packing. Ultimately, Zoe proves she's not only up to the task but just might belong in Bluebell.

What works: It's a fairly harmless show...

What doesn't: ...if you can accept Summer Roberts from "The O.C." being a surgeon. Bilson can do cute, quippy and charming with the best of them but all of the scenes where she's saddled as a doctor feel out of her grasp. It gives a decidedly silly flair to "Hart of Dixie's" more procedural aspects, frequently eating away at the thrust of the show and make Zoe's quest for a bedside manner ring untrue. Not helping matters is how all the locals dial up their accents to near caricaturist levels, further hyperstylizing an already challenged premise. Those hoping for a "Gilmore Girls"-esque portrait of Bluebell will be disappointed to find every twangy needle drop this side of the Mason-Dixon line and "Dukes of Hazzard" hero worship in lieu of actual characterization.

If anything though, the most frustrating aspect of the show is just how obvious everything plays out. From Zoe's milquetoast complaints about the town (no lattes, everything's fried, the horror!) to Zoe's love triangle with gentlemanly George and rascally Wade to Harley's true motivations for leaving Zoe his practice, every beat and twist can be spotted before it even appears on the horizon, not to mention well ahead of Zoe's needlessly redundant narration of said events. All that's missing is Zoe falling in a pile of mud. Oh wait, she does that too. That's not to say there isn't a show in here - the humbled big city professional returning to their small town roots genre as always is rich with potential. It's just "Dixie" feels like the most boilerplate incarnation of that genre as possible. So here's hoping the show finds a unique voice...

The bottom line: ...before its other faults consume it.

  [june 2011]  


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