It looks like last night’s Hart of Dixie finale marked the end of the series. Though there’s still a chance the CW could pick it up for another season, no one associated with the show seems to think that’s likely.
I loved Hart of Dixie. Even when it frustrated me, the hour of every week that I spent in Bluebell, Alabama, was a joy. The show always opted for small-scale human conflict over the life-and-death stakes that rule so much television these days. It was mostly about people who liked each other, and who enjoyed each other’s company, and the town they called home. Conflicts could always be resolved, often within the span of an episode, and while the show wasn’t overly concerned with “realism,” the characters all felt fully developed. They had histories and wants and specific points of view, and just about any combination of characters could produce interesting results.
With the departure of Parks and Recreation, there has been a lot of talk about Pawnee, Indiana, and the way that show built out a city, with recurring citizens and local lore, until it felt as real as any location you could point to on a map, and Bluebell was much the same. Zoe Hart may have been Hart of Dixie’s main character, but the finale was titled “Bluebell” for a reason. We’ve come to love the oddballs that filled out the town around Zoe: Lavon Hayes, Zoe’s best friend and Bluebell’s Mayor, and the other two corners of her primary love triangle: local lawyer George Tucker and local troublemaker Wade Kinsella; her cantankerous medical partner Brick Breeland and his daughter Lemon, Zoe’s primary antagonists over the course of the series, and also, eventually, her friends; then there’s Rose, Wanda and Tom, Dash, the Pritchetts, Crazy Earl, Annabeth and Cricket and their fellow Belles, Tansy, Lily Anne Lonergan, Meatball, and so many more than I can list.
Bluebell had an affection for town events, a long-standing rivalry with neighboring Fillmore, an illogical economy and a tendency toward outright goofiness. The people there struggled to accept outsiders, and that provided the primary conflict for Zoe in the show’s first season, but they came to consider her one of them.
A runner in the finale introduced three new characters, superficial stand-ins for Zoe, Wade and George, embarking on their own Bluebell love triangle. Zoe’s stand-in, a lawyer just arrived from New York City, as perplexed and scared and rude about it as Zoe was in Hart of Dixie’s pilot, mistook her for a native Alabamian, and try as Zoe did to deny it, there was more of Bluebell in Zoe as the show came to an end than there was New York. The Zoe we met in the pilot, who looked down on Bluebell with disdain, would have been horrified to see herself, four years later, with half the town present as she delivered her baby. Shocked to see herself marrying Wade on a hospital stretcher, or as one of Lemon’s bridesmaids, or even just happy to consider Bluebell home. But her evolution was a natural one; Zoe was won over by Bluebell just as Bluebell was won over by Zoe.
Few shows could pull off an ending like the one that closed out last night’s finale, a town-wide, all-singing, all-dancing musical number, but it seemed a natural fit to me, maybe even the only way Hart of Dixie could have ended. It was hardly the first time Bluebell broke out in song, though it was the first time a song broke the fourth wall, with the characters bringing the audience into the action, making us a part of the farewell. I watched it crying hysterically and grinning wildly. I can’t think of any way I’d rather say goodbye to a show I loved so much.
Hart of Dixie is not a show about how up-and-coming young surgeon Zoe Hart came to Bluebell and fell in love with a boy. It is a story about how Zoe Hart came to Bluebell and fell in love with Bluebell, and with being a family doctor. And the story of how Bluebell fell in love with her. It’s a story about identity, about family (both the ones you’re born into and the ones you make for yourself), about the paths we choose to take (and those that are chosen for us). And yes, there’s a love triangle there–or maybe more of a love pentagon, a love star–and sometimes it drives the plot, but it doesn’t define the show.
So there’s lots to love about Hart of Dixie, and that’s not even mentioning its cast. Cress Williams, Scott Porter, Wilson Bethel and Tim Matheson are all great as the various men in Zoe’s life (friends and love interests and her professional rival), and Jamie King, though her southern accent can spin out underneath her like tires on a slick road, has imbued Lemon, Zoe’s romantic rival, with some depth, cracking the shell of her picture perfect exterior to reveal her insecurities and motivations. And then there are the various bit-players, characters that make up the town of Bluebell (aiming for the charming quirk of Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow, right down to the same set, and mostly succeeding), who are varied, distinct, and wholly entertaining.
The real “Hart” of the show, though–if you’ll permit a pun on a pun–is Zoe herself. Rachel Bilson drew some snark when she was first cast from those who didn’t think anyone would buy her as a no nonsense surgeon lacking in bedside manner. To some extent they were right–Bilson exudes a friendliness that defies Meredith Grey’s “dark and twisty” world view, even when she’s sneering at Bluebell, or bitterly raging against her parents. But as the show has evolved, Zoe has relaxed into a role better suited for Bilson. While she’s still having trouble gaining the trust of Bluebell’s residents, it’s got more to do with her tendency to bungle social functions and a lack of tact than with an unfriendliness. And as far as buying her as a surgeon goes, there’s no question that the character is more than capable. She’s never more confident than when diagnosing a patient or cooler than in the face of an emergency.
Hart of Dixie is the fourth show from Josh Schwartz, after The O.C., Gossip Girl, and Chuck, and perhaps the most distinct thing these shows share–other than well-suited soundtracks–is a sense that they know themselves. The O.C. was never afraid of its soapy roots, it could acknowledge when things didn’t work, and it regularly dipped into self-parody, Chuck found its core audience and played straight to it, never more so than with its guest stars, an endless list of stars and cult icons from the eighties and nineties, and Gossip Girl regularly reaches for new levels of insanity–a recent example: a supposed long lost cousin who was unmasked as a con artist by a real long lost cousin who is also, surprise, a half sibling–and new levels of couture. Hart of Dixie, meanwhile, has found itself in its own goofiness.
Now, goofy is not a bad thing. The show is light on gravitas, but it does have a sweet charm. Bluebell’s a strange town, where they celebrate “Planksgiving” instead of Thanksgiving (a far more pirate-y holiday), and heat waves drive the citizens a little insane. I compared it a bit to Stars Hollow earlier and I think that’s apt, both Stars Hollow and Bluebell share in the old trope of small towns with big traditions. You see some of that in Mystic Falls on The Vampire Diaries and in Pawnee on Parks and Recreation and really in just about every small town that TV has ever dreamed up. But it’s not just Bluebell that’s goofy. The show itself seems to be saying, “Yup, this is what we’re going to be, take it or leave it.” They’ve embraced the jokes about Zoe’s affinity for dressy shorts, and they’ve dressed her up in a hideous Southern Belle dress–complete with hoop skirt–and asked her to sing on cue. They’ve teased secret romances and then revealed them as secret friendships and introduced an alligator named Burt Reynolds. Even the CW’s promo department plays into the goofier side of the show:
That’s not to say that there’s no depth to Hart of Dixie. While the found-family relationships are loving, there tends to be quite a bit of strife in the traditional families, from Zoe’s discovery that the father she’s always known and admired and aspired to be is not related to her biologically–and the fall-out with both of her parents that accompanies that discovery–to Lemon coming to terms with the fact that the mother that left when she was a teenager has moved on with a new family. George (Porter) struggles for his parents’ approval while–without even knowing it–trapped in a love triangle with Lemon and Lavon (Williams). Wade (Bethel), meanwhile, is trying to figure out what he wants out of his life, and what sort of relationship he wants with his father, the town drunk, and how he feels about Zoe.
The series works because it takes its characters emotions seriously, even if it doesn’t always take itself too seriously. They mix-and-match the characters to explore new dynamics–it took awhile to see Wade and Lemon interact, but when they did they proved a fun pairing–and they expand the town of Bluebell almost weekly, bringing new residents into Zoe’s, and the audience’s, circle.
Hart of Dixie isn’t going to win any major awards, and I have no clue where it stands in terms of getting picked up for a second season, but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour. The stakes aren’t very high in Bluebell, this is low-stress TV, and sometimes, especially on Monday evenings, coming down from Mad Men and The Good Wife and the rest of Sunday night’s high-stakes television, that’s just what you need.