Review: 'Virgin River' marks the downward flow of Netflix

Sappy soap opera lives on as streaming becomes mainstreaming

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Competition breeds creativity. Success brings complacency.

At one point Netflix was a creative cauldron for TV, experimenting with shows like “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “The OA” and so many others. Some were hits, some were flops, but the very idea that shows like these were getting a shot in the new medium of streaming was exciting.

Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson in "Virgin River."

Then came the algorithms, the catering to the largest (lowest?) common denominator. Exciting, ambitious shows — most recently “Glow” and “Away” — were canceled as Netflix moved toward the middle and the brave new world started to resemble old-fashioned broadcast television.

Welcome to “Virgin River,” a soppy, radically inconsistent, corny and downright embarrassing soap opera entering its second season. In truth this weak descendant of shows like “Northern Exposure,” “Everwood” and “Gilmore Girls” — small town charm, quirky characters, a parade of minor calamities — probably never would have cut it on a broadcast network, but on Netflix it must be catering to the right algorithm.

The premise? An absurdly beautiful big city nurse (Alexandra Breckinridge) with a tragic past moves to a small town where she immediately meets an absurdly handsome bar owner (Martin Henderson) with a tragic past. An ongoing will they/won’t they get together dance begins. That dance lasted the entire first season and now the waltz continues.

They are surrounded by a group of mostly irritating characters, led by the town’s busybody gossip mayor (poor Annette O’Toole). Every episode ends with a cliffhanger — an abandoned baby! A drug addict brandishing a knife! – which is promptly resolved next episode. Nothing is remotely believable or challenging, everything is antiseptic.

Is this the end of the world? Of course not, it’s just more pablum for the easily pleased. But might it mark the end of an exciting if brief era? Possibly.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'Virgin River: Season Two'