Remember Doc Hollywood? It was a 1993 comedy about a plastic surgeon played by Michael J. Fox who is forced to become a small town doctor after crashing his car in a small southern town. Naturally, Fox’s doc begins to fall for the small town eccentrics and ends up sticking around while falling in love with Lou, played by Julia Warner.
Hart of Dixie takes a similar premise, though Rachel Bilson’s Dr. Zoe Hart doesn’t end up in the hamlet of Bluebell, Alabama by accident. After being told that she is not getting the job she wants because of her lack of bedside manner, Zoe accepts the invitation of a strange southern doctor who offered her a job right out of college that she rejected.
Now, needing to spend a year learning how to treat patients, Zoe takes the doctor up on his offer only to find that the good doctor is dead; though he was kind enough to leave half of his small town medical practice to her in his will. You get no points for guessing that the town has its eccentrics and that Zoe will eventually be won over and convinced to stick around, at least for the year.
Rachel Bilson is a very attractive actress but in her brief career, from Fox’s The O.C, to a brief run on How I Met Your Mother, she hasn’t made much of an impression beyond the impressive site of her Jolie-esque lip pout. Her work in Hart of Dixie will change that as the lead role shows range and promise.
In the series premiere Bilson demonstrates a quick wit, a little slapstick and some honest acting chops when the episode takes a slightly dramatic turn thanks to an unexpected woman in labor situation at a party. Bilson also shows strong chemistry with co-star Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights) who may or may not be her love interest; in the premiere Porter’s George is engaged to the town Queen Bee, Lemon Breeland (Jaime King).
He isn’t the only potential love interest; Wilson Bethel plays town bad boy Wade and Cress Williams is the town Mayor, Lavon Hayes, a former NFL star who, in the premiere, irksomely refers to himself in the third person repeatedly. The third person bit will need to be retired early if the character is to be taken seriously.
Nancy Travis was cast in the Hart of Dixie pilot as Zoe’s assistant/nurse but her commitment to the Tim Allen sitcom Last Man Standing means she’s only around for the pilot. Eisa Davis, best known for brief roles on Law & Order and The Wire, will take Travis’s place as Zoe’s friend and mentor in the ways of the small town.
Hart of Dixie creator Leila Gerstein, former writer for Gossip Girl and The O.C taking on her first show runner gig, describes Hart of Dixie as a comedy. Indeed, the pilot has an unexpectedly high laugh quotient. The humor of Hart of Dixie is a clever way of separating the series from the parody level self seriousness of other CW series.
Hart of Dixie isn’t all that original or exciting but it has the kind of breezy charm that other CW series should steal. The small town setting evokes positive memories of early Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls and if the show can be half as fun as those shows were in their early years it will be worth checking out for a little while.
Hart of Dixie premieres Monday, September 26th on the CW Network.