Why Netflix’s Virgin River Is Perfect Comfort Watch TV

Through five seasons, Virgin River's small town TV charm has made for easy Netflix bingeing.

Virgin River. (L to R) Christina Jastrzembska as Lydie, Teryl Rothery as Muriel St. Claire, Gwynyth Walsh as Jo Ellen, Sarah Dugdale as Lizzie, Annette O’Toole as Hope, Nicola Cavendish as Connie in episode 504 of Virgin River.
Photo: Netflix

An idyllic setting, charming cast, and sweet love story are often the ingredients needed for a good comfort watch. The desire to escape everyday pressures since the pandemic has seen viewers like myself going back to old favorites such as Gilmore Girls or finding something newer like Virgin River, currently streaming its fifth season on Netflix.

With each season reaching Netflix’s top ten, Virgin River has capitalized on fan’s love of Robyn Carr’s 21-book-long series of the same name and our increasing impulse to find new shows that don’t require too much of our attention. Virgin River is precisely that as it lacks terror-inducing Jaws music and instead provides Hallmark-esque vibes with the added dash of danger from the illegal drug trade surrounding the town.

The series follows nurse practitioner Melinda “Mel” Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge), who moves to the remote California town of Virgin River to start over after the death of her husband. As with any TV show, however, things don’t go to plan. The lovely house she was promised is, in fact, a rundown cabin in the woods and her boss, the local doctor Vernon “Doc” Mullins (Tim Matheson), is not at all happy to see her or her plans to bring the practice into the 21st century.

But just as Mel is getting ready to leave, a newborn baby arrives on the practice doorstep, kicking her caring instincts into gear as she tries to find the baby’s parents. It also helps that she stumbles upon Jack’s Bar, where she meets charming former U.S. Marine and bar owner Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson). Despite Jack coming with his own baggage, he becomes another one of the reasons Mel finds herself convinced to stay in Virgin River just a little bit longer. 

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Like Mel, I was looking for an escape when I started watching Virgin River. The COVID-19 pandemic was still underway and I was living in a hotel for six months to complete an undergraduate degree and in much need of new scenery. The show may mirror a soap opera in some areas but its gentle ability to touch on heavier themes is powerful – as we’ve seen this season with Brie (Zibby Allen) testifying against her rapist and Brady (Benjamin Hollingsworth) trying to get rid of his latest drug boss. Its balance of important storylines with maintaining a comforting feel as it showcases the importance of community, first experiences, and falling back in love with your partner makes it hard not to see why the show wouldn’t feel like a warm hug to anyone who watches it. 

It also helps that the soundtrack gets better each season. Season five includes Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Every so often we’re also treated to Breckenridge’s character Mel letting loose and dancing along to Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” or “Exactly How I Feel” to shake off life’s more difficult moments. 

The nostalgic element embedded in Virgin River reminds us how much funny small town TV shows are missed. Gone are the days of series like the long-running Gilmore Girls or even The CW’s pleasantly cheesy Hart of Dixie – a show that Matheson also played the town doctor on, funnily enough. But Virgin River reminds us of the joy we can sometimes find in this brand of television. Because who doesn’t want to watch the Moonlight Mingle to see if Jack and Mel finally get together? Or witness someone who rivals Gilmore Girls Matriarch Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) for being nosy? Virgin River’s Mayor Hope McCrae (Annette O’Toole) is so in everyone’s business that she reads letters and spills secrets, almost leading to the break of a relationship. 

The storylines on Virgin River may come in quick succession as is the nature with streaming, but the show always tackles each problem with a similar message that there is support all around, even for opioid addicts and resident bad boy Brady. While most people may find their communities online nowadays, there’s something about watching the town of Virgin River all come together in a crisis, like they did during this season’s wildfires, that makes you feel a deep comfort. There’s an allure in watching a town that’s removed from big city struggles but still has its own set of problems you know the local community will undoubtedly come together to solve. 

One of the most charming aspects of Virgin River is that it reminds you it’s ok to be a hopeless romantic, as you can experience love at any age as shown by new doctor Cameron Hayek (Mark Ghanime) and Muriel’s (Teryl Rothery) new romance and Hope and Doc’s relationship. While the show may not be for everyone, it’s a reminder that these sorts of shows that focus on the hopeless romantics within all of us are desperately wanted and do well for streaming services. 

Thankfully, with two Virgin River holiday episodes due to be released Nov. 30 and comfort shows like Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia, Sweet Magnolias and Prime Video’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, all becoming popular, it feels as though streaming services are finally getting with the program about how much people love small town shows they can get lost in, even in their cringiest moments. 

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The five season long run of Virgin River, which nowadays is rare, proves that the show’s balance of drama and comforting peaceful television is the perfect blend for a binge.

All five seasons of Virgin River are available to stream on Netflix now.