Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently spent 53.2 hours, give or take a few minutes, in the charming little town of Bluebell, Alabama.
Never heard of it? Neither had I until a few weeks ago.
Carla and I just finished a pandemic binge of “Hart of Dixie” on Netflix. We’re always late on pop culture trends, so of course we missed this romantic comedy’s original 76-episode run from 2011-2015, before anything with the word “Dixie” in it was widely recognized as problematic. It was on the CW, so a lot of you probably missed it, too. It’s highest ratings came in 2012 when it hit a whopping no. 142 in the Nielsen’s.
Carla and I usually have a show we watch together, you know, one that’s not “Lord of the Rings,” Star Wars, Marvel or sports. Carla heard about “Hart of Dixie” from her friend and walking partner, Natalie, whose Southern bona fides are indisputable.
Carla took her suggestion as gospel and dived in, watching the first two episodes without me. She was hooked from the beginning. I joined for episode three, and it became our nightly diversion at a time when bad news was followed by worse news.
Not since childhood when I hung out in Mayberry for hours on end have I spent so much time in a fictional, Southern small town. Unlike “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Hart of Dixie” has more love triangles and WAY more festivals. Among the more zany town events are Founder’s Day, Homecoming, Planksgiving, Bluebell Battle, Sweetie Pie Dance, Watermelon Festival, Mother-Daughter Tea, Debutante Ball, Gumbo Cook-Off, Turtle Derby, Miss Cinnamon Cider Pageant, Disaster Preparedness Drill, and the Strawberry Festival. These folks make their own fun, and when they need a taste of big city life they road trip to Mobile or New Orleans.
Make no mistake, this show is not high art. The accents aren’t consistent. The plots are contrived. The characters are cliché. But it is just the kind of escape during COVID-19 that made me overlook all of that and embrace my inner Bluebellian.
Without giving anything away, here’s the basic plot: New York City heart surgeon Dr. Zoe Hart (the show’s namesake and protagonist) moves to Bluebell, Ala., to practice medicine when she’s denied a prestigious surgical fellowship because she lacks bedside manner and genuine concern for her patients. She rents a cottage from the town’s mayor, LaVon Hayes, a former University of Alabama and NFL star who has a pet alligator named Burt Reynolds. Dr. Zoe Hart falls into and out of love with a number of locals – including her bad boy neighbor, Wade Kinsella, and town lawyer and golden boy, George Tucker – and has an ongoing rivalry with Lemon Breland, a debutante and Southern belle who is a force to be reckoned with on every issue and at every town festival.
In my college days, I spent some time in the Mobile area, and I can attest that there is no place like Bluebell in that geography. But I didn’t watch “Hart of Dixie” for realism. By the end, I didn’t even watch for the “will they or won’t they” back-and-forth of the romances. My greatest pleasure was listening for Mayor Hayes’ signature line, expressed at least once per episode when circumstances inevitably turned against him: “Nah! Nah! Nah!”
So if all the bad news is weighing on you and you’re in need of at least a virtual getaway, I highly recommend a visit to Bluebell, Ala. I think Founder’s Day is coming up soon.
All this time in Bluebell has me wondering about depictions of life in the South on TV, and which ones are the best. There are no shortage of rankings available online these days, but I’m curious what your top five would be. Leave a comment below and share your all time favorite Southern shows. You’ll be glad you did.