Review by Jennifer AJ
In Virgin River, a nurse takes up a job at a secluded town to start anew after a personal tragedy. Soon, she discovers that her new life isn’t as simple as she hoped for. That is the premise of the Netflix show, a throwback to a simpler time in TV history in the vein of Gilmore Girls, Everwood and Hart of Dixie.
Much like Hart of Dixie, the show tells the story of a medic’s self-rediscovery set against the backdrop of a picturesque small town. After the death of her husband, a guilt-stricken Melinda “Mel” Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge - The Walking Dead & Family Guy) decides to take a nursing job in a remote Northern Californian town called Virgin River. Upon arrival, she immediately faces the rejection of the town doctor, Vernon “Doc” Mullins (Tim Matheson), who feels capable enough of handling his clinic alone despite contrary evidence. Mel belatedly realizes that she was hired by the mayor and Doc’s estranged wife Hope McCrea (Annette O’Toole - Smallville) behind his back. She also meets a charming local bar owner, Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson - Grey's Anatomy) with whom she strikes a budding romance. Between facing a reluctant new boss, helping the townsfolk at the clinic and coping with her grief, there’s never a quiet day at Mel’s Virgin River stint.
Shot in the natural reserve of British Columbia, Canada, the show makes good use of its setting. The riverside town’s gorgeous vista is almost like a character in itself. The rolling mountains, sweeping green forest, and charming riverbed with its calm water silently witness Mel’s healing journey. Be it a picnic by the river, a cushy snuggle in a cabin, or a walk among the trees, it’s as if we’re there with her.
The plot indeed bears so many similarities to the CW’s Hart of Dixie, down to the casting of veteran actor Matheson as Doc Mullins. In that drama, Matheson played Dr. Bertram "Brick" Breeland, a small town doctor who begrudgingly realizes he must share his practice with a young doctor from the big city, played by Rachel Bilson. The arc between him and the female leads going from adversarial to mutual respect is practically identical. Someone on the casting team must’ve loved Hart of Dixie so much and thought four seasons of Dr Breeland weren’t enough!
The rest of the storylines involve all sorts of tropey scenarios you can expect from this kind of story: big city mindset clashing with small town conservativeness, bizarre medical emergencies, romance with the town’s hunk, gorgeous showcase of the rural landscape.
Nowadays, “city professionals restarting life in a small town” is a trope often reserved for Hallmark Channel movies, especially around Christmas. Virgin River proves that there is still more to be mined from the formula. The show never tries to colour outside the line, giving just enough contemporary touch and some dramatic complications to spice it up a little bit but never too much. Despite the relatively safe writing, the show is peppered with witty dialogues and strong performances from its ensemble cast. The core characters are rootable and impossibly chic for small town dwellers. It is simply a pleasant, easy watch. There’s just something comforting about tuning into a show where you know that things are going to be alright at the end.
Virgin River may be the kind of predictable series that will never reach Emmy’s radar, but if you are in the mood for a relaxing show with a chill plot, stunning locale, and cute Hallmark-esque romance, then this one perfectly floats your boat.
Published on February 2nd, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.