[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Full disclosure: I have a Netflix account for my Mom, but I’m not a regular viewer. If I get a heads up on something, I’ll go look for it, but I don’t have a wander across its offerings, which, as I understand it, is how most people consumer its vast library. The logarithm by which the streamer advertises its wares is also baffling to me.
I knew about Ryan Reynolds’s cheesarific 6 Underground, which dropped Friday, and when I went to watch it [this is a judgment-free safe space], up popped a “because you watched Heartstrings” preview for a just-dropped series called Virgin River, headlined by Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson. I generally click away from the auto-previews but about 15 seconds showed me Annette O’Toole and Tim Matheson and about a half-dozen of my Canadians, so y’all know how this ended. Four episodes in, I’m ready to tell y’all to give this one a shot.
Breckenridge is most recently familiar to folks for This Is Us, but I like her from her Lifetime Christmas movie last year, the sneakily very, very good Christmas Around the Corner. It’s in rerun rotation this season and definitely worth a watch if you missed it. Henderson I’m aware of, but I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy, so I don’t have an immediate fandom frame of reference for him. I’m an 80s kid who grew up on and adored O’Toole and Matheson so them together was immediately interesting.
The series is filmed around Vancouver (hence the fantastic Canadian presence) and takes a bit of a page from Northern Exposure and Men in Trees (which is STILL not streaming or on DVD, dang it, music clearances). Instead of Alaska, the action is set in Northern California as Mel (Breckenridge), a nurse practitioner and midwife, arrives in the titular town for a fresh start after pulling up stakes in Los Angeles.
Hired by town mayor Hope (O’Toole) to work for Doc Mullens (Matheson) under less-than-transparent circumstances, she finds herself smack in the middle of small town drama and befriended by bar owner Jack (Henderson). Immediately beset by personal and professional curve balls, Mel has to rethink her decision, and the ringing voice of her sister, Joey (Jenny Cooper), who keeps pleading with her to course correct back home.
We see through a series of regular flashbacks (often cued by staring out windows) that something Very Bad befell her idyllic life, when she was married to fellow doctor, Mark (Daniel Gillies). In a bit of a surprising switch to the usual formula, we don’t get the answer to that at the end of the pilot.
Aside from Jack, Hope, and Doc, the townspeople also include single mom, Paige (Aurora Teagarden‘s Lexa Doig), who runs a baked goods food truck, Jack’s partner, Preacher (Colin Lawrence), and his younger brother, Brady (Ben Hollingsworth), who both served Iraq tours with him. Other familiar faces in the cast include my Ian Tracey, David Cubitt (Van Helsing), Nicola Cavendish, Lynda Boyd (Republic of Doyle), Gwynyth Walsh, Lauren Hammersley (Orphan Black) and Jesse Hutch (Cedar Cove).
The series was created by Good Witch and Cedar Cove producer Sue Tenney and skews a little bit more mature than those Hallmark series. It’s not without the pesky love geometry that I abhor, but it’s still fairly safe family-friendly viewing.
There’s a throughline of Mel’s journey and the progression of her friendship with Jack set against standalone episodic stories that unfold the townspeople’s personal narratives and secrets. The drama of a neighboring illegal grow op on the fringes of the town occasionally spills over, lending an undercurrent of menace.
I really, really liked it. It’s a hair on the predictable side if you’re familiar with or a fan of these kinds of dramas, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll take a tame drama about good people trying to do good things and move forward from profound grief.
Plus this cast, y’all. Every time another one of my people popped up, it made me stupid happy. And even better, it’s already been picked up for a second season, which finishes filming this week. I’m not sure how faithful it is to the source material, but the series is based on the books by Robyn Carr and there are a bunch of them.
Virgin River‘s first season of ten episodes is available now on Netflix. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Netflix.
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