A screenshot of Netflix's 'Virgin River'

‘Virgin River’ Is the Perfect Guilty Pleasure TV Show

Netflix's soapy drama isn't groundbreaking television by any means, but the romance at its center is enough to keep audiences coming back.
August 14, 2021
6 mins read

I was scrolling through Netflix, looking for something new to pick up. I noticed a show in the monthly top 10 called “Virgin River.” The third season came out on Netflix about a month ago. I didn’t even read the description of the show or pay much attention to the dialogue in the preview. In fact, what drew me in from the preview was the beautiful scenery of the show’s setting. I started watching and made it all the way through the end of Season 3, and I will say I have never had more contradictory feelings about a show in my life. The plot and characters of “Virgin River” are often ridiculous, yet it manages to keep viewers entertained.

The show follows Melinda (“Mel”) Monroe, played by Alexandra Breckenridge. She is a widowed nurse who leaves her job at an emergency room in Los Angeles to work in a small rural clinic in a northern California town called Virgin River. The show is based on the New York Times bestselling series of novels by Robin Carr. The initial conflict of the story comes from Mel’s struggle to adjust to the rural lifestyle and having to deal with her misogynistic boss at the clinic. But where viewers really get drawn in is with the romantic tension between Mel and the bartender, Jack Sheridan, played by Martin Henderson. Mel is still dealing with the loss of her husband, and Jack has previously gotten another woman pregnant, so he needs to juggle the future responsibility of being a father with finding the woman he truly loves.

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Within the first season, we are introduced to a number of characters, each with their own silly drama. The characters keep coming with each season, but none are as interesting as Mel and Jack. Although the story is a bit cheesy, even laughable at times, I did find myself getting drawn in. None of the characters are that complex, but the actors’ performances are still solid, and their on-screen chemistry is entertaining. Mel and Jack are definitely the saving grace of the show; both give relatable, charming performances, and the two clearly work well together. I would not have watched the whole show if it weren’t for the on-screen chemistry between Breckenridge and Henderson.

“Virgin River” is not a piece of master class television. On top of a simple plot, the show is incredibly heteronormative and gets an “F” for diversity. All the couples are straight, white people, and there is only one major character of color. On top of that, the show features implicit patriarchal gender roles. Mel is constantly facing some kind of peril, and Jack is right there to protect her. What the show does well is create addicting tension in a beautiful setting that keeps the viewer hitting “next episode.” However, by the end of the show, I was used to the cliffhangers and plot changes. I even laughed at the Season 3 finale cliffhanger.

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Another part that made me laugh is how the story seems to unravel into a perfect storm of drama. For example, Mel has a deceased husband and has had several previous miscarriages before the story even begins, so she has a lot of depression to deal with. The same goes for Jack. He is a veteran and has serious post-traumatic stress from his time in the Middle East. A couple of his veteran friends are in the show, which allows for heated scenes where they bring up their war stories. Additionally, Jack has impregnated someone else, someone he doesn’t love. He still wants to be in his children’s lives, but he needs to fight for it with the mother’s new partner who happens to be a lawyer. As you can probably tell, the drama is incredibly soapy and not the most realistic. I’m not saying that these situations can’t happen to people, but the combination of them all in this show is a bit hilarious.

The show has some stunning backgrounds and nature shots, which I was a big fan of. Most of the scenes were filmed in the surrounding areas of Vancouver. The waterfalls, rivers and forests in the show are breathtaking. The showrunners also do a great job of illustrating how rural the town is and how tightly knit the community is. Word spreads fast in the small town of Virgin River, and the town regularly has lumberjack events where everyone gathers. I really wanted to live there, which made me pay more attention.

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Despite the familiar, simple romance, I kept coming back for more of “Virgin River.” Why? Because sometimes we need mindless entertainment. I watched all three seasons of the show in a short timeframe. Not once did I leave thinking critically about it because it doesn’t necessarily provide a deep narrative about humanity, but it doesn’t need to. “Virgin River” is the epitome of a guilty-pleasure show.

The unrealistic romance and plot will both make you laugh and cringe. I knew that Jack and Mel were going to get together from the second that they met each other. But oddly enough, knowing the rhythm of the show kept me interested rather than bored. The chemistry between the actors kept me wanting to see how their relationship unfolded. I thought that I was above soapy drama, but I fell head over heels for it with this show. Sometimes, even the shows that do nothing special are just what we need. If you are in the mood for mindless romance, “Virgin River” is the perfect show for you.

Elliot Jackson-Ontkush, Skidmore College

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Elliot Jackson-Ontkush

Skidmore College

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