The CW’s Hart of Dixie is not jaw-droppingly brilliant TV, and it’s not some seminal literary work about the American South. It’s not Faulkner, it’s not Flannery O’Connor. It’s not Tennessee Williams. Heck, it’s not even Alexandra Ripley’s sanctioned Gone With The Wind fan fiction, Scarlett. There are more corny stereotypes than you can shake a stick at, and Jaime King‘s unfortunately (but accurately) named Lemon frequently looks like she wandered off the cover of a Civil War-era romance novel. But for all the elements it’s weak in, HoD has oodles of (to indulge the cliché) heart. And that’s something sorely lacking in the other new CW show I’ve been sucked into watching, Ringer.
Though both HoD and Ringer are shot in LA instead of their respective small town Alabama and New York City settings, the two series couldn’t be more different in tone. Maybe it’s the residual vibe from the Gilmore Girls‘ Star’s Hollow set that HoD is using, but there’s a warmth in every frame. Contrast that to the cold, distancing, almost alien mise-en-scene of Ringer. And both shows boast fantastic, talented, casts… but the characters are on different planets.
I don’t need perfection or sainthood from my protagonists — you don’t have to be likable, just interesting — but I do need rooting value. I don’t like watching shows where everybody’s a jerk of some sort. I get enough of that in real life. (Hell, I am enough of that in real life.) And six episodes into its run, Ringer comprises a bunch of deceitful people with no discernible moral throughline. Central character Bridget (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is on the run from the law and faking a pregnancy, while presumably sleeping with a man who doesn’t know who she really is. Said man, Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd), is perhaps the show’s most appealing character, but he has a controlling streak that’s definitely icky. The other male lead, Henry (Kristoffer Polaha) is a spineless weasel and a cheater. I like “Agent Guyliner,” Victor Machado (Nestor Carbonell), but he’s hamstrung by being everywhere except in the loop and, thus, comes off as inept.
That’s not to say that HoD‘s characters are nuanced bastions of writerly genius. Fish out of water, former football player, Southern bellezilla, bad boy with a heart of gold… the archetypes are definitely painted with broad strokes. But those strokes are soft; they’re loving and gentle and fun. Rachel Bilson‘s Zoe comes off as an elitist brat in the pilot, but as the show unfolds, she’s emerged as dorky, vulnerable and endearing. Cress Williams‘ Lavon Hayes talks about himself in the third person and owns an alligator named Burt Reynolds, but there’s a wink and a smile to it all and a depth beneath it. “Bad boy” Wade (Wilson Bethel) is anything but: He’s sweet, funny, and a little naughty — the kind of guy who’d be a hero in a contemporary romance. Even caricature Lemon shows cracks in her façade, longing for Lavon while trying to remain Hell’s Belle. There’s a human quality to these characters, an emotional authenticity that has nothing to do with rifle racks and gators and gumbo cook-offs.
I know I said I don’t need characters to be likable, but I do want to care about them. That’s what keeps me coming back to a show. And, so far, Hart of Dixie pulses with life and laughter while Ringer… rings hollow.