Stream It Or Skip It

Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Virgin River’ On Netflix, Where A Woman Moves To A Remote Town To Start Over

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Virgin River

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The cable and streaming landscape is full of shows we like to call “warm bath” shows, ones that wrap you in romance and coziness, like you should be watching them in a tub full of bubbles or in front of the fireplace. Hallmark Channel has been the best place to find those shows lately, but Netflix wants to get into that business, too, which is why they adapted Virgin River from Robyn Carr’s 20-book Harlequin series of “romance in the woods” novels. Read on for more…

VIRGIN RIVER: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?

Opening Shot: A red car is seen from overhead, driving on a mostly-empty wooded road.

The Gist: Melinda Monroe (Alexandra Breckinridge), a nurse practitioner who used to work at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, is driving into these woods to take a job as a nurse in a small, remote town. When her BMW is run off the road, she’s picked up by an older, grouchy gentleman in a fishing hat. She tells him that she’s been hired by the town’s mayor to work for Doc Mullins, who’s getting older and needs help. Then the grumpy fisherman introduces himself: He’s Doc Mullins (Tim Matheson) and he’s “only 72!”. Suffice to say Melinda is getting off on the wrong foot in Virgin River, California.

When she sees the “beautiful” cabin that the mayor, Hope McCrea (Annette OToole), provided for her to live in, she recoils. It’s ramshackle to say the least, and Mel finds Hope inside, cleaning up one of a number of ugly messes. Hope directs her to go to Jack’s for dinner. There she meets Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson), and they get along swimmingly. Jack’s cook, and old Army buddy, John “Preacher” Middleton (Colin Lawrence), isn’t so sure about Mel. But he does know how to make a great lentil and squash dish.

On her first day of work with Doc Mullins, the crusty old doctor kicks Mel out. Hope convinces her cantankerous friend to bring Mel in on a trial basis, but he refuses to let her see patients. He’s the doctor to everyone in town, you see, and he’s built their trust; he doesn’t trust her with his patients yet. When a pregnant patient comes in with labor pains when Doc isn’t around, Mel treats her, and Doc rips her a new one, saying that he should have been called first. Between Doc and the creaky cabin, Mel is starting to wonder why she came to Virgin River.

But, the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains, the kindness of Jack, who has some secrets of his own, and a surprise find at Doc’s door may keep her there, especially because, as we see in flashback, her memories of her marriage to Mark (Daniel Gillies) are painful for her to remember.

Virgin River on Netflix
Photo: Netflix

Our Take: Virgin River is based on Robyn Carr’s novel series of the same name. It was developed for TV by Sue Tenney, and if you look at her previous credits, like 7th Heaven, Cedar Cove and Good Witch, this show fits right into that genre. In fact, we were wondering how this show landed on Netflix instead  of the Hallmark Channel.

A show like Virgin River is like a warm bath; comforting and a welcome respite, but after a while, you get bored and antsy for something else to do. Its visuals are great, showing the beauty of the British Columbia woodlands where the exteriors are shot. The performances are all natural and inviting, and TV and movie vets like Matheson and OToole settle into their roles quickly. Henderson is more than affable as Jack.

The highlight is Breckinridge, who most of us last saw on This Is Us. She’s got the combination of charm, toughness and vulnerability that a role like Mel needs. We liked seeing her navigate the ins and outs of a town where everyone knows each other, and dealing with the old-fashioned views of Doc Mullins, both when it comes to medicine and gender roles. We’re still not completely sure why she had to escape to Virgin River: Her husband could be dead, or she had a miscarriage which affected her marriage. It’s something she blames herself for, as we hear when she calls her sister Joey (Jenny Cooper), but it’s unclear how this will affect the series.

The show will need whatever emotional weight that part of the story brings to it; the first episode moves awfully slowly, and there isn’t much in the way of conflict, at least not yet. Just like Northern Exposure and other shows of this ilk, the goings on in a small town won’t be as bucolic and simple as they seem on first blush. But there isn’t going to be a ton of conflict or high drama, and it feels like 90 percent of the show will be devoted to that “warm bath” feeling. Not that it’s a bad thing. But Virgin River is the kind of show for people who have read The Bridges of Madison County a bunch of times and think the aforementioned This Is Us is just too damned dramatic.

Sex and Skin: Nothing. This show is so clean, it squeaks.

Parting Shot: Mel comes to work at Doc Mullins’ office, and sees Jack on the porch leaning over a laundry basket. The basket has a baby in it. “Jesus!” exclaims Mel. “I’m pretty sure that’s not Jesus,” Jack replies.

Sleeper Star: We didn’t recognize Matheson at first, because in his first season he was under that fishing hat. But the voice immediately told us it was Matheson. We’ll watch anything he’s in, but considering he’s usually playing rich douchebags, seeing him nail the set-in-his-ways country doctor was refreshing.

Most Pilot-y Line: Joey tells Mel, “Honey, all you changed by moving is your address,” which seems like a literary way of saying that Mel can’t run away from her problems.

Our Call: STREAM IT. If you sometimes tune into feel-good Hallmark shows to just switch off and feel cozy for a little while, Virgin River will help you do that. It’s well-acted and well-written for this kind of show. But if you’re looking for dramatic tension, look elsewhere.

 

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.

Stream Virgin River On Netflix