November 26, 2013

THE SKED Midseason Finale Review: “Hart of Dixie”


The crises on HART OF DIXIE, perhaps the most amiable hour on network television, tend to be fairly low-intensity, and tonight’s midseason finale–a Hanukkah episode, of all things, not something you often see on a show where the main characters aren’t Jewish–was no exception.  The major dramatic development of the hour came when the grandmother of Zoe Hart’s (Rachel Bilson) boyfriend Joel (Josh Cooke) went missing with Zoe’s uncle, and it turned out they’d spent the night in the local bed & breakfast and were “canoodling” in the Harvest Festival hay maze.

Hart of Dixie may be the only soap on TV that doesn’t have any villains (even Jaime King’s haughty Southern belle Lemon, who started the series as Zoe’s antagonist, has become more of a frenemy).  Instead, it lets its matched and mismatched lovers wander and stumble into each other and back out again, rarely the worse for wear.  The biggest surprise of this half-season was Joel, a New York Jewish (hence Hanukkah) intellectual, short-listed for the National Book Award no less, who Zoe brought back with her after her big-city sojourn at the end of last season, and who seemed set up to be the killjoy who would be immune to the charms of Bluebell, Alabama.  Instead he’s succumbed as well, becoming buddies with Wade (Wilson Bethel) and getting literary inspiration from the backwoods brothers of Tansy (Mircea Monroe).  It’s hard to imagine things working out well in the long-term for Joel and Zoe (Cooke is still a guest star, although he’s been in just about every episode this season), but maybe he and Bluebell have more of a future together.

Tonight’s final hour of 2013, written by series creator Leila Gerstein and directed by David Paymer, did a fine job of setting up romantic entanglements for the rest of the season.  A thread in recent weeks has been Zoe’s attempt to get to know the Alabama side of her family, finally making headway tonight with her frosty cousin Vivian (Lauren Bittner)–which was the cue for Vivian to hook up with Wade, who had just barely finished planting a kiss on Zoe (in that hay maze) with the excuse of being on pain meds.  Similarly, just as Zoe’s other former swain George Tucker (Scott Porter) had established a serious relationship with Lynly (Antoinette Robertson), his ex Tansy–who’s also Wade’s ex; it’s that kind of show–came back to town on a semi-permanent basis, which doesn’t bode well.  Also back in town:  Shelby (Laura Bell Bundy), the ex of Zoe’s medical partner Brick (Tim Matheson)–and also of George’s; see above–pregnant but, apparently, not with Brick’s baby, but one that resulted from artificial insemination.  She’s opening a town cabaret, which is good news for fans of Laura Bell Bundy’s singing (she starred in the musical of Legally Blonde on Broadway).  Hart also set up the hiatus of Jaime King, whose Lemon will be off taking care of her injured grandmother.  This is sad for those of us who were appreciating the unintentional hilarity of the show desperately trying to hide King’s real-life pregnancy (by tonight’s episode, she was basically photographed only from the neck up), even while it was showcasing Bundy’s fake one.  The other major characters, town Mayor Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams) and Annabeth (Kaitlyn Black), are in a full-bore romance whose only drama seems to be when he’ll finally propose (in time for a sweeps wedding, one would think).

It’s difficult to get truly excited about Hart of Dixie, an unambitious series content merely to be likable, but it provides a very pleasant hour of television every week.  Conflicts never stick or become dire, and Bilson heads a cast distinguished by its sheer charm.  This fairy-tale aura of romantic enchantment hasn’t paid off very well for the show in the ratings, which are dismal even by CW standards, and a constant dose of such sweetness might result in tooth decay.  In the current TV universe, though, Hart is uniquely uncynical and open-hearted, providing a palate-cleansing change of pace.  It’s its own picturesque bed and breakfast.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."