People on television are more beautiful, we’re told, explaining away all the runway models playing cops and prosecutors. Still, it’s hard to remember a wider gap between actor and role than Rachel Bilson as an aspiring thoracic surgeon in “Hart of Dixie,” a fish-out-of-water concept that manages to be condescending to the fish and pond alike. This CW show is so silly and lightweight it might possess unexpected appeal for its sheer camp factor, as well as the opportunity to see the South depicted as a place as exotic as the dark side of the moon.
If you want to be a heart surgeon, then you’ve got to work on your own,” a mentor tells Bilson’s hard-charging doctor Zoe Hart in the early going. Well, she didn’t get the promotion she wanted despite her gifted hands, and she’s just split with her boyfriend. What to do? Oh wait, there’s that old country doctor who keeps writing, urging her to come take a job at his small practice in Alabama …
Soon enough, Zoe disembarks a bus in the middle of nowhere, wearing a comically short skirt. Fortunately, the first person the “new lady doctor” meets is George (Scott Porter, “Friday Night Lights”), a dreamy galoot in a pickup truck who assures her small-town folk are really wonderful if you just open up and get to know ’em.
So it goes, with Zoe aghast by the cotillion gowns she encounters and receiving a chilly reception, a la “Everwood,” from the town’s only other doctor (Tim Matheson), while soaking up motherly advice from the office manager (Nancy Travis, who’s leaving because of a commitment to ABC’s “Last Man Standing”).
Zoe will prove her mettle, of course, but not before several awkward encounters, winning her friends like the town mayor (Cress Williams) but instantly gaining a bitchy rival (Jamie King). About all that’s separating the latter from Scarlett O’Hara is the exclamation “Fiddle-dee-dee.”
Granted, the CW has earned its stripes with exaggerated youth-oriented soaps — including “Gossip Girl,” where “Hart” writer Leila Gerstein has toiled. And while Bilson — reunited with “The OC” producer Josh Schwartz — certainly stands out as a potential CW star, she’s so miscast and emotionally scattered there’s nary a chance to buy into her character, however lovely she might be. A white lab coat just makes her look like a resident in Barbie’s medical dream house.
Obviously, Zoe’s missionary work in Hicksville (production actually shifts to Burbank after the pilot) is meant to mature her as a physician — one capable of seeing patients as “people to help,” not problems to solve, which is heart-warming in an old-fashioned way.
More practically, it’s difficult to see this latter-day “Green Acres” baling much hay in one of TV’s most competitive timeslots. And that isn’t just whistlin’ Dixie.