The Morning Round-Up: ‘Hart of Dixie’ and ‘Pan Am’

Once again, in the interest of covering more shows that I don’t always have time or interest to write full-length reviews on, from time to time I’m going to do a morning round-up post like this featuring brief thoughts on multiple shows. In this case, we’re going to discuss a pair of freshman dramas with female leads – “Hart of Dixie” and “Pan Am” – coming up just as soon as I get my navel pierced…

In case you couldn’t tell from the way the show introduced Addie after she’d already appeared last week – or if you don’t follow Josh Schwartz’s Twitter feed – last night’s “Hart of Dixie” was shown out of order. As I’ve discussed, with new shows, networks try to frontload what they feel are the strongest episodes to get viewers into the habit of watching, and given the demographics of the CW in general and this show in particular, I can see why CW execs wanted an episode featuring what Fienberg dubbed “the ab-alanche” to get as early in the queue as possible. Sill doing that, leads to awkward continuity moments like this.

Overall, I think “Hart of Dixie” continues to do a lot of things well. First and foremost is that it knows how to exploit the extreme likability of Rachel Bilson, and also of Scott Porter and Cress Williams, but it’s done a good job of building Blubell as a distinct (if entirely cartoonish) community, setting up the underdog nature of Zoe’s attempts to fit in, etc. There’s been a lot of repetition in the structure; if anything, that this one didn’t have Tim Matheson – and therefore didn’t spend half the running time on Brick second-guessing Zoe before acknowledging her skills in the end – might have made it a good candidate to air in order and break up the formula a bit. But that’s to be expected from a new show.

What I think is keeping the show as a pleasant diversion as opposed to something genuinely good is the humor level. I think “Hart of Dixie” wants to be funny, and sometimes is (usually involving Lavon Hayes), but I don’t think it’s nearly as funny, as often, as it wants and needs to be. Most of the scenes with Lemon, for instance, are clearly designed for a laugh, and they’re not working at all. (Though Lemon is just as problematic when the show wants us to feel bad for her; the show needs her for the love pentagon with Zoe, George, Wade and Lavon, but I don’t think she’d be missed if she skipped town.) What made “Gilmore Girls” a show that was beloved by its small audience and ran for seven seasons was that, in addition to taking place in an awesomely fake town and featuring cute, likable characters, it also had incredibly clever dialogue and knew how to generate laughs by putting those characters together in the right combination. I’m still enjoying “Hart of Dixie,” but anytime the characters wander through a part of the Warner Bros. backlot that’s most overtly part of Stars Hollow, I can’t help but think of how much better it could be.

“Pan Am,” meanwhile, is continuing to figure itself out. If I was concerned at first that the espionage angle seemed unnecessarily piled onto the idea, it’s turned out to be one of the show’s most consistently engaging piece – though it’s helped by having Kelli Garner at the center of all those stories. Kate’s flirtation this week with the Goran Visnjic character was particularly strong, as it’s good to see her developing real skills in the game, while also dealing with how her spy missions can create conflict with the rest of the crew. The only downside with doing several spy-heavy episodes in a row is that Collette’s been marginalized of late, and I want the show to get Karine Vanasse back in the spotlight soon.

The last couple of episodes have also tried to beef up the presence of the two male regulars – without pulling a “Playboy Club” and making them into the leads – and I think they’ve gone one-for-two on that. I know I have residual affection for Michael Mosley from his stint as Drew on “Scrubs 2: Med School Boogaloo,” but Ted so far seems the more interesting member of the cockpit crew, with a compelling backstory (where Dean’s is tied to Bridget, a character who largely exists in the abstract) and a more engaging personality. They’ve done a good job of balancing Ted so that he can be abrasive without being a caricature, and appealing to Laura without turning into a pool of mush. Dean, on the other hand, I tend to forget whenever he’s not on screen and talking, and that was as much a problem in the original version of the pilot as it’s been since Mike Vogel took over the role.

The ratings continue to slide – the latest episode slipped to a 1.8 demo rating, which tends to be cancellation-level for ABC, FOX and CBS – but the show just added to its writing staff by hiring Steven Maeda (who’s worked on “Lost,” “Lie to Me” and “Miami Medical,” among other shows), which is the kind of move a new show usually makes when it’s expecting a full-season order and needs more hands on deck. So either Sony’s being extra optimistic, or ABC boss Paul Lee is showing surprising patience despite the alarming ratings trend. I hope it’s the latter, because I like what “Pan Am” is doing right now and want to see that continue.

What does everybody else think of where these two rookies stand at this point in the season?