Understanding the relatively unsexy appeal of Netflix’s “Virgin River” comes down to one thing

It didn’t happen with the kind of overwhelming social media push that has propelled some of Netflix’s most popular series to the top of the streaming mountain, but the heartwarming small-town drama “Virgin River,” who just released its third season on July 9, has become one of the streaming service’s most beloved and trusted performers since its debut in December 2019.

Based on a long series of romance novels by author Robyn Carr and developed for television by showrunner and executive producer Sue Tenney, the drama stars Alexandra Breckenridge as Melinda “Mel” Monroe, a nurse practitioner. and midwife from Los Angeles who moves to the isolated city in Northern California after a series of traumatic heartaches left her lost and seeks a chance to start over. While the little cabin promised to her by the town’s mayor (Annette O’Toole) is in dire need of repairs and the aging town doctor (Tim Matheson) she was hired to help would prefer She disappears, Mel ultimately decides to stay in town one while after a newborn baby is left at the door of the clinic. Well, that and there is an obvious spark with Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson), a former Marine living with PTSD and the owner of the only bar and restaurant in town.

With the right amount of romance, soap, and small town charm, “Virgin River” is the type of show that screams comfort and thus draws in many viewers. This has been particularly helpful in allaying real-world anxieties during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the perception of the show, which is rarely talked about with any depth in the media, is that it’s not very exciting. After all, it’s not a high-profile drama like “The Crown”. It is not a contender for awards like “Ozark” or “The Queen’s Gambit”. It doesn’t even have the sexy side of a show like “Bridgerton”. So why, then, are viewers flocking in droves?

It might not be obvious to the casual subscriber, but Netflix has focused on the romantic genre for the past few years, with licensed K-dramas and adaptations of popular romance series like “Virgin River,” “Sweet Magnolias,” and the aforementioned “Bridgerton”, which just received 12 Emmy nominations, leading the way. With few TV options for romance fans, this seemingly modest effort has allowed Netflix to tap into a previously underserved audience and make the most of it. It’s also part of the streaming service’s larger effort to produce programming created by and for women (see also: “Firefly Lane” and romantic comedies like “Set It Up”).

Women, but especially women over the age of 30, are a significant demographic and whose interests have routinely been overlooked or viewed as inferior, despite the fact that women globally make up more than half of America’s population. A general lack of programs designed specifically for women could be the result of men continuing to occupy the majority of managerial positions in the media and entertainment industries, with women occupying only 27% of the most senior positions. high. Netflix reported in January that women made up almost half of its workforce (47.1%), including 47.6% of its management team. Whether or not there is a direct correlation between these employment statistics and the number of programs made for women in recent years requires further investigation than this story allows, but it seems obvious that Netflix has, in at the very least, understood that entertainment for women is financially wise in addition to filling a cultural void.

The fact that “Virgin River” also works in her favor is mostly made up of women over 35, with many of the supporting cast being women aged 60 or older. It is one of the few programs that refuses to play by Hollywood’s old mistaken rules, which tend to claim that a woman is rejected by the age of 30, but men in the 60s can always be leading men. Geena Davis has worked for nearly two decades to bring equality to the industry for this reason, and seeing so many roles for “older women” is a breath of fresh air for many viewers. Their stories are easily the biggest draw in the series, and if you need more proof that Mel and the older women are the stars, the single story involving teenagers is the weakest in the series and often looks like in a half-hearted attempt to attract a younger audience.

But just being happy for women and offering better portrayal aren’t the only reasons “Virgin River” and shows like this have been so successful. There is also an obvious Netflix factor at play. After all, basic cable networks like Hallmark and Lifetime have been producing content for women for years and haven’t enjoyed the same level of mainstream success. While the former had the # 2 scripted series on cable in 2019, and both managed to break through the masses in terms of vacation programming – Hallmark was in fact the most-watched entertainment network on cable in hours of prime. listening and in full audience during his last block of Christmas programming. year – a stigma persists. This is reminiscent of how romance novels continue to be mocked as the guilty pleasure of horny housewives rather than a booming and profitable industry (and in many cases, a form of resistance).

But while Hallmark has managed to escape the worst of the audience woes that have plagued much of basic cable by delivering heartfelt, low-stakes programming that audiences of all ages can watch and enjoy, TV shows and movies released on niche cable networks still suffer from compared to those that are readily available on a streaming service like Netflix which has 208 million subscribers worldwide. That’s because it’s easy to put those cable programs aside and ignore them – especially now that more and more people are cutting the cord – which only further alienates them. So while soapy romances and dramas have been and still are available elsewhere, it’s possible – and even likely – that being designed and available on Netflix not only helped put more emphasis on these types. series and strengthen the foundations of these genres. but potentially even further legitimize them in the eyes of viewers after years of slander. (The fact that Shonda Rhimes is an executive producer on “Bridgerton” certainly helps, too.)

If these were the only things “Virgin River” had going for it, they would be more than enough to grab viewers. But there’s another reason the show continues to appeal to so many people, and that’s because it shines a light on the issues women face. During the show’s first season, it was revealed that Mel had lost a child before the tragic death of her husband (Daniel Gillies) in a car accident. The baby was stillborn, and Mel and her husband struggled with infertility in the years that followed, going through several cycles of in vitro fertilization but never becoming pregnant again. Mel’s heartbreak, especially when it comes to motherhood, was a major milestone in the first two seasons. The series returned to the topic of Season 3 again when Mel chose to undergo another IVF alone after her split from Jack because he was reluctant to have another child when he already had twins on the way with someone. ‘another (Lauren Hammersley’s Charmaine).

According to the CDC, about 12% of women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty becoming pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. In recent years, many women have gone public with their struggles with infertility in order to increase awareness of these issues. Leading celebrities like Meghan Markle and Chrissy Teigen have both shared their personal experiences of miscarriage recently in the hopes that women around the world will feel less lonely and be more comfortable talking about something that affects millions of people. The fact that “Virgin River” tackles this little discussed but relevant subject and the way it has affected her heroine is a powerful step in making her aware even more.

Mel’s struggle with infertility isn’t the only big topic the show has touched on since its debut, however. “Virgin River” also covered domestic violence in a storyline involving Paige (Lexa Doig) fleeing her abusive husband, geriatric pregnancies and postpartum depression after Lilly (Lynda Boyd) gave birth in Season 1 and the sexual assault after Jack’s sister, Brie (Zibby Allen), miscarried in season 3 after being raped by her then-boyfriend. These are all subjects that unfortunately affect women, and although “Virgin River” is far from the only show to address these types of stories, they are more often than not sidelined or added for melodrama.

Even though “Virgin River” sells a lot of soap sometimes – there are drug dealers out of town and the main thread of season 3 is who shot Jack at the end of season 2 – it comes back. still to the very real, very honest issues affecting women today. And while women are hungry for heartwarming, romance-filled dramas, they also just want to see shows that are made for them by women like them. They want to see their stories portrayed on television. And “Virgin River” is doing all of these things with no sign of slowing down. You might be kidding, but “Virgin River” is a real hit, and Netflix is ​​sitting on a gold mine.

Season 3 of “Virgin River” is now streaming on Netflix.

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