TV Time: Virgin River is so dumb. So why can’t I stop watching?

Season two of the Netflix series Virgin River (adapted from the book series by Robyn Carr) just dropped last week, and as of this writing, I have 2 of the 10 episodes yet to watch (and I will definitely finish them tonight).

Friends, this show is dumb. But it’s also incredibly watchable.

The basics: 30-something Mel Monroe is an accomplished nurse practitioner-midwife from LA who moves to Virgin River, a small rural town in Northern California, to accept a one-year position in a medical clinic.

Mel’s husband died in a car accident the year before, and she’s been consumed by her grief ever since. She’s hoping that a complete change will help her heal and move forward with her life.

What she doesn’t know is that the doctor whose practice she’s joining doesn’t want her — he’s been pressured into accepting her by the town busybody, who is also the town mayor and his estranged wife.

Mel arrives to find that the home she’s been promised is a decaying old shack, and that she’s already managed to insult the doctor she’ll be working for. On the bright side is local restaurant/bar owner Jack, a sweet, sexy man with a deep soul, who has demons of his own — he’s haunted by his memories of his time as a Marine sergeant and the young soldier in his squad who didn’t make it back.

Naturally, Mel and Jack have instant chemistry, and it seems likely that their friendship will blossom into romance. Meanwhile, Jack has a casual girlfriend who’s much more invested in the relationship than he is; there’s a town full of quirky characters to meet; and there are some unsavory types adding an element of danger as well.

So why do I think it’s dumb? But why is it so watchable?

First, I’ll focus on the good:

  • The scenery is AMAZING. While the town of Virgin River is supposed to be located in Humboldt County, California, the series was shot in British Columbia, and it shows. The rivers and mountains and forests are absolutely breathtaking. I think at least half the reason I keep watching is for the pure delight of seeing the gorgeous setting.
  • Mel herself is a great character. She’s strong and accomplished, an expert in her field, and full of compassion for her patients (even when they treat her like dirt). Over the course of the first season, we see flashbacks that establish the deep loss she experienced — scenes from her marriage to Mark, the tragic loss of their stillborn baby and subsequent struggle with infertility, and the accident that took Mark’s life. Actress Alexandra Breckenridge does a terrific job of portraying Mel’s straightforward approach to life.
  • Side note: This is shallow, but I love Mel’s wardrobe! I want to live insider her big, fluffy, cozy sweaters.
  • Tim Matheson as Doc Mullens. If you like Tim Matheson in Hart of Dixie, you’ll like him in Virgin River — he’s basically playing the same character! He’s always a delight to watch, and seems to have cornered the market on grumpy older doctors who don’t want to change.
  • Small town wholesomeness — any TV show set in a small town, whether it’s suburban Stars Hollow, Connecticut (like Gilmore Girls) or a southern town like Bluebell, Alabama (Hart of Dixie) or even a place riddled with supernatural beings like Mystic Falls, Virginia (Vampire Diaries) seems to thrive on showing town fairs, special traditions, barn dances, carnivals — you name it. Virgin River has its share of small town celebrations, just as you’d expect — even a super competitive egg relay race.

The bits that drive me nuts:

  • Manly men acting manly. Jack is an ex-Marine, as are his best buddies, and they’re all very noble and manly and protectors of the women folk. It can feel like a recruiting ad at times.
  • There’s a drug trafficking subplot that seems SO unnecessary — an illegal pot grower in the woods with bad guy enforcers with big guns, injecting an element of danger (and giving Jack an adversary to face down.) Why does a small town drama need drug runners? Why?
  • Time moves slowly. A character who revealed a pregnancy at the end of season one is now (2 episodes from the end of season 2) nearing the end of her first trimester. So… she’ll give birth in season 4 or 5?
  • Town gossip. I know, small town drama and all, but the small town gossip element is just silly. The drama between Doc and his sometimes-wife Hope is annoying as hell. They decide to reconcile, but Hope pushes him to pretend date someone else to throw people off their tracks, which seems all kinds of silly and mean to the other woman (who’s perfectly lovely and actually seems like a better match for Doc than moody, demanding Hope, who has held a grudge over a repented-for infidelity for 20 years!)
  • Teen drama. Of course one of the older women from town has her trouble-child niece come to town, and of course the niece is a stereotypical bad girl who’s leading the sweet town boy astray.
  • Let’s see, what else? Well, every possible small town drama plot point we’ve seen before, including a baby on the doorstep, a domestic violence survivor hiding out under an assumed name, petty jealousies, a surprise pregnancy, PTSD, and more.

Still, as I said, it’s highly watchable even while having moments that are absolute clunkers. Mel is really a great character, and I feel invested in her, even if it’s just watching her go on her morning runs through the forest and across the suspension bridge. I really appreciate her vulnerability as a person, which never keeps her from being the consummate medical professional.

Maybe it’s not fair to call the show dumb. It has its entertaining, heart-warming moments, and it’s definitely drawn me in.

But, ugh! PLEASE dump the drug runners and all the stereotypical small town plots already.

So, in other words:

Me: Grumble, grumble, grumble, this show is dumb.

And also me: Bring on season 3!

Query for readers: Has anyone read the Virgin River books? Should I give them a try? Or will I be just as annoyed as I am by the show?

18 thoughts on “TV Time: Virgin River is so dumb. So why can’t I stop watching?

  1. I don’t know why but I’m getting Northern Exposure vibes from your description. That was an awesome show! This sounds fun and I may start watching it, despite the dumb parts. I can’t see how drugs fit in from watching that trailer!

    • Right, from the description, this could be another “big city doctor comes to small quirky town” kind of show, except this one isn’t a comedy at all. Frankly, if they cut the drug storyline and added just a touch more humor, it would be a lot better off. (I watched the last two episodes last night… and yup, they really need to get rid of the drug plot. It’s weird and a total bummer.)

      • The characters (especially Jack) are all so dysfunctional and the acting is really bad. (Again, especially Jack) it’s cringe worthy at times. With the right actors and less “drama”, this could be a much better show.

  2. Actually, the drug running aspect came directly from the books and is an issue in California. Carr wrote what she knew and it’s a problem exactly because it’s less populated and policed.

    What’s dumb is the extended Charmaine storyline which was NOT in the books. It’s the only element that’s been a disappointment for me.

    This show is extremely watchable as you say and I binge watched all 10 episodes…what is wrong with me???

    • Thanks, Jonetta! I live in California so I know that the issues exist in Humboldt county… but to me, it feels really jarring in what would otherwise be a pretty heartwarming romantic story. Interesting that Charmaine is not in the books! She drives me nuts. I guess I should give the books a try? Anyway, if something’s wrong with you, it’s wrong with me too! I binged the whole thing. 🙂

  3. Omg! I totally agree with you in some points:
    – the scenery is beautiful (I’m always amazed on how beautiful it is)
    – how is it possible that we watched an entire season and Charmain doesn’t have a belly?? the entire season happened in what? two weeks???
    – and the ending? we know that Jack is not going to die but we have to wait an entire year (I’m being generous) to know what’s going to happen…and if the timeline continues the same way, season three will begin with jack getting in the hospital and the ending will be him leaving the hospital!

    But I watched the entire season two in two days, and I loved it! ahaha

    • Ha, sounds like we’re very much on the same page! I think this season took only a week or two! The whole Hope/Doc/Muriel plot was ridiculous, especially Hope getting mad when Doc had fun with Muriel. Oh boy. And you’re right, of course Jack will be okay… but it’s one more thing for him to be all tortured and broody about. I had to laugh every time Connie tried to discuss fake alibis with Preacher in public. She’s not so good at being sneaky! And still, I kind of love this show, even though it’s ridiculous. But that scenery!

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  5. Your review is spot-on. Great, relaxing show.

    One little detail has bothered me. Jack referred to his young Marine who was KIA as a “good soldier.” Marines are Marines. Soldiers are in the Army. Sailors are in the Navy. A Marine would NEVER call a fellow Marine a soldier. It’s a form of an insult to Marines. Jack would have known this.

    This is Basic Military Writing 101, see The Pacific (or With The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge, the memoirs on which it’s based).

  6. You’ll be more disappointed if you read the books. I loved the books and could not put them down. I really dislike how they have the characters & storylines all over the place. Jack’s character seems miscast because of how he is described in the book.

  7. My husband doesn’t shave Friday morn until Monday, I have slight red whisker marks, Jack’s partners must have to make trips to dermatologist.
    Mike father of Char’s babies, surprised Mel didn’t snap to her trapping Jack as this has happened over my years.
    After first sexual experience did d not want Mel’s overly done statement “not ready”. At least tell Jack “grand”

  8. The books are much better! I think a lot of the show’s characters are miscast. Sorry, I don’t like Mel, Hope is ridiculous, Lizzie is in 10th grade in the books. She has to be 30. I’m watching, but please read the books.

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