The #1 seies on Netflix this week is Virgin River, about a nurse named Mel who, after the death of her husband (there's always a dead spouse), wants to find a sanctuary where "there's never any trouble," like Dorothy in Oz, so she moves from L.A. to small-town northern California, somewhere near Eureka. Wait -- did I get that backwards? Doesn't everyone move from oppressive small towns to big-city sanctuaries?
No.Mel moves to a small town. But it's not like a Christmas romcom: Virgin River is overbrimming with soap opera scandals, hidden agendas, abandoned babies, long-lost black-sheep relatives, and tragic diseases. I doubt that there are any gay people, but just to be sure, I watched Episode 6, where everybody mingles at the big town dance. Meanwhile I'll keep a tally of tragedies.
Scene 1: Establishing shots of barren mountains 300 miles from the nearest gay bar. Mel approaches Hot Guy Jack (Martin Henderson) as he is chopping wood (fully clothed). They catch up: he's doing ok in spite of the latest horrible thing that happened to him (no, he doesn't want to talk about it), and she's taking a few days off to forget the horrible thing that happened to her ("It's best to repress your feelings.") Tragedy Count: 2
Elderly busybody Hope stops in, upset: Preacher has insanely decided to roast a pig for the upcoming Mingle. It will never be ready in time! "I take a few days off to recuperate from the horrible thing that happened to me, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket!" Tragedy Count: 3.
Mel and the audience don't know what Mingle is, so Hope explains: The whole town gathers at a farm for dinner and dancing. When you least expect it, the DJ shouts "Mingle!", and you have to change partners. Attendance is mandatory: if Mel doesn't go, everyone will hate her forever. Wow, a town full of bullies.
Suddenly Mel's sister Joey arrives for an unexpected visit (what's with their parents, giving girls boys names?). Mel gives her a sour look; because they hate each other, or because now she has to go to the Mingle too? Talk about pressure! West Hollywood was never like this!
Scene 2: Hot Guy Jack, Mel, and Big Sister Joey descend upon the town bar, all wood veneer and animal heads. The Bartender glares at them suspiciously, but Ricky the Busboy (Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey) stammers all over himself, awestricken by the sight of a glamorous big-city lady. Jack, apparently the owner, orders the Bartender to take Big Sister Joey's luggage to her room. He grudgingly complies.
Mel takes Joey on a tour of the town (that will take about five minutes) so she can ask "What the hell are you doing here? We hate each other, remember?"
Joey: "I heard about the latest horrible thing that happened to you, and thought you might need a big sister."
Mel: "I'm fine with repressing the memory, and what about your husband and kids? And tomorrow is your birthday? You should be with them!"
Joey: "I'm not leaving until I finish seducing Ricky the Busboy. He's over 18, isn't he?"
Scene 3: Town Doctor Doc (Tim Matheson, photo from a couple of years ago) tells his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Town Bully Hope, that the divorce lawyer can only meet with them today, and then not for a month.
Scene 4: The inn is full, so Big Sister Joey will have to sleep on a rollaway bed in Mel's room. Joey: "We can share your bed, unless, of course, I sleep over with Ricky the Busboy tonight. He has his own room in his parents' house, right?" They discuss Joey's marital problems and the horrible thing that happened in Episode 2.
Finally Joey reveals her real reason for coming to Virgin River: "Moving here was a mistake. You should come home to L.A."
Mel: "I like it here. A small town where nothing bad ever happens." Um...
Joey: "But you're running away from the horrible thing that happened to you back home. You have to deal with it."
Mel: "You always try to control my life! You're not my mother (whom something horrible happened to). I hate you!" She storms out. Tragedy count: 8, counting marital problems.
Scene 5: Mel goes to the diner to ask Hot Guy Jack if she should stay in Virgin River or move back to L.A. "Well, maybe you should go home. Family is everything. On the other hand, maybe you should stay. Being independent is everything. I hope this advice was helpful."
Scene 6: Preacher (Colin Lawrence), who is not really a preacher, and a girl named Paige are loading up pecan pies for the Mingle (I thought he was roasting a pig?). He notes some inconsistencies in her back story, which she scrambles to smooth out, while her young son glares at her. Then Preacher asks her to the Mingle. Uh-oh, the dreaded date request from a loser! "Oh...um...um... I would, but...I have to, um...wash my hair."
When Preacher leaves, Son calls her out on her lies: "Geez, kid, it was just an excuse to get out of a date with a creepy old dude. You'll be doing it too, when you get older. Get used to it."
Scene 7: Hot Guy Jack has ordered Bartender (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Ricky the Busboy to help him clean out an old cabin. Suddenly sultry, slinky Veronica to Mel's Betty drives up to ask whether they should eat before or after the Mingle (there will be food at the Mingle, duh!). Apparently she has really come to smooch with Hot Guy Jack and enjoy Bartender's jealous glare.
When Veronica leaves, Bartender grimaces: "Don't you get tired, screwing two women at the same time?" "It wasn't at the same time," Hot Guy Jack replies, "But thanks for the idea!"
Scene 8: The Mingle, which is held in a big barn, naturally. Not enough people to justify 20 pecan pies. The town is racially diverse, but I see only see boy-girl dancers except for a boy-boy-girl teenage trio. As Town Bully Hope and the biddies gossip, soon-to-be-ex husband Doc rushes in to yell: "Why didn't you show up at the divorce lawyer's meeting?" "I was busy! People don't bully themselves, you know, and I had to talk Preacher into bringing pecan pies instead of a pig. It always has to be a p-word with that guy!"
Mel and Big Sister Joey make an entrance. Preacher rushes over to be introduced, but Joey sees someone she likes better and scrams (rejected twice in a couple of hours! Harsh!). So when the slow dance begins (all boy-girl couples), it's Preacher and Mel. They discuss the horrible thing that happened to Hot Guy Jack back in Iraq. Tragedy count: 9.
Scene 9: Time to change partners! Still all boy-girl. This round, Mel gets Ricky the Busboy,. Hot Guy Jack and scary sultry Veronica arrive; she immediately vanishes, and Hot Guy Jack notices, in ashen-faced horror, that Big Sister Joey is talking to Bartender! Why is he so upset? Did he want Joey for himself, or is Bartender a serial killer?
Time to change partners! This round, Mel gets Town Doctor Doc, who happens to be her boss. He's surprisingly good; he explains that he took ballroom dancing in high school in order to meet "pretty girls." Yuck!
Scene 10: Time to change partners! Mel sits this one out so she can call home and get some intel on Big Sister Joey. Preacher gazes in jaw-dropping "Girl of His Dreams" awe at Paige. She already shot him down for a date, but surely she'll accept a dance!You choose partners; it's not random, and they can refuse. How is this different from a regular dance?
Meanwhile, Town Bully Hope sees her soon-to-be-ex husband Doc dancing with Big Sister Joey! Her mouth contorts into a beautfully over-acted snarl
Sultry Girlfriend Veronica returns from 45 minutes in the ladies' room and latches onto Hot Guy Jack, who looks horrified. He exchanges glances with Bartender, across the room. Obviously Jack hates his girlfriend, but is afraid to dump her, or she'll tear off his head and eat his insides.
Scene 11: Time to change partners, and this time the DJ announces: "no wallflowers! Everybody has to get out onto the dance floor in boy-girl couples, or everyone in town will hate them forever!" It's an empty threat -- plenty of people remain on the sidelines and at the little tables.
This time Big Sister Joey is dancing with Bartender (finally named: Brady). Mel wants to leave, but she's not ready: "I'm sure Brady will offer me a ride home. To one of our homes, anyway. Ciao!"
Scene 12: Time to change partners! This time we hear about Doc's problems, and Preacher finally gets the nerve to ask Paige to dance (have you ever seen a 40-year old so shy about romantic gestures?)
Time to switch partners! Hot Guy Jack gets an elderly lady, who thanks him for mentoring Ricky the Busboy, her grandson. They discuss the horrible thing that happened to him. Tragedy count: 10.
Scene 13: Time to switch partners! I feel like I've been scanning this room for same-sex couples on the dance floor or at the little tables for hours. Hot Guy Jack gets his girlfriend back. After they discuss the horrible thing that happpened to the elderly lady in Scene 12 (Tragedy count: 11), Jack decides to dump Veronica on the spot. "It's like, we were just having some fun, and now you're trying to make it all real. I'm not into a relationship!" "But we've been together for two years!" Sob, sob, drama, run out.
Jack immediately moves on to Betty...um, I mean Mel, who is all depressed over her big sister's marital problems. Out of the 11 horrible things mentioned in this episode, you're upset over that one? "Well, let's hook up. That will take your mind off it. I have a really big penis, remember?"
The DJ yells out another "no wallflowers" number, so Mel and Jack hit the dance floor. He sees Big Sister Joey giggling with Bartender, and roils with jealousy. Which are you jealous of, dude? Do you have a thing for Bartender? Or is that sour look your only facial expression?
They rush over to break up the couple. Jack: "I order you to not have sex with Joey. She's married." Bartender: "I'm off duty. You can't tell me who to have sex with, like you do at the bar. I'm not your boy toy!" Jack punches him; he falls to the ground. Mel grabs Joey and ushers her out. The end.
Beefcake: No. Some cute guys.
Gay characters: Are you kidding?
Gay subtexts: Doubful.
Tragedy: About every tragedy trope from a year's worth of soap operas. I read ahead in the episode synopsis: everybody has a ridiculous number of horrible things happen to them. Even Ricky the Busboy.
My Grade: A. This show is unintentionally hilarious. I just wish I had Joel and the Bots from MST3K to riff with.