Rednecks, Race and The CW: An Alabama Perspective on Hart of Dixie

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Rachel Bilson, walking into a hole-in-the-wall Southern bar, awkwardly saying, “Howdy, y’all?”

Just about enough to make me gag.

I’m from Alabama, and I don’t really appreciate the stereotypical Southern-hick persona that’s typically portrayed in those types of shows. But, against my better judgment, I decided to give Hart of Dixie a shot. Bilson is a pretty well-known actress, and the show was nominated for a People’s Choice Award for best new show.

Oh, Lordy, y’all.

To be fair, it has potential, and I can see why some people love it. It’s almost got a Gilmore Girls feel to it, minus the witty banter and pop culture references. Almost.

But the writers have missed the mark along the way. The characters fall flat. The storylines are trite.

On the positive side, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the Alabama stereotypes haven’t been terrible. If anything, it seems the writers have worked so hard not to be offensive that they’ve pretty much stripped away anything that might be distinctly Alabaman about the show. It’s as if the show might take place in any Small Town, USA.

The characters the writers do put a bit more effort into (Zoe Hart, doctor extraordinaire, the sadly flaky, vapid main character from New York; Lemon Breeland, the Southern Belle who wears the most ridiculous get-ups that someone on the creative staff apparently thinks classify as classy Southernwear) are over-the-top caricatures. There’s a time and place for satire, but this crosses over into clownishness.

Courtesy of The CW

Lemon (Jaime King) is probably the one character who comes close to getting it right. The need for perfection, the pressure, the desire to be seen as the flawless Southern woman. But the writers have come so dangerously close to making her so ridiculous that it’s almost hard to pull back from.

The troubling aspect of The CW's drama is its complete disregard of racial relations and the tension that still exists in Alabama. You have to understand, I am from Clio, Ala., where the town-limits signs still boast to being the hometown of George Wallace. I live in Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide, one of the state’s beloved football programs, where Coach Bear Bryant still looms larger than life 29 years after his death.

So when I say things are a heck of a lot more complicated than this show makes them out to be, I know what I’m talking about.

It’s nice to think someone like Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams), the retired former-NFL star, would be mayor of a town like Blue Bell, where the population seems to be about 90-percent white. It’s a nice thought, but Lavon Hayes is black -- one way Hart of Dixie ignores the reality of the South I live in. Just last year, a Harvard Law School graduate with eight years experience in the House of Representatives failed to even make it past the Democratic gubernatorial primary in the state. His name was Artur Davis, and he was black.

And that doesn’t even address the complexities of interracial relationships in the South, relationships that characters on the show float into and out of with no worries or reservations -- the way it should be, but unfortunately not the way it is.

I hoped Hart of Dixie would be something more than just a diatribe against the ass-backwards redneck ways of Alabamans. And it is. Sadly, it’s a bit of a joke, but, hey, it’s entertaining in its own way -- even if it is in that guilty-pleasure sort of way. It is on The CW, after all.

If you want to indulge in the guilty pleasure with me, tune in next week at 8 CT on The CW. I’ve given up taking the show seriously, but I’ll be livetweeting for fun and would welcome any questions or comments you have about the show.

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