When the season 2 promos for Virgin River were playing every time I opened Netflix, I decided it was a good time to make a start on season 1 and watch it through. After all, two seasons to watch are better than one! Going into it, I was vaguely aware the premise was similar to Hart of Dixie (2011 - 2015) but I had no idea just how similar the shows would end up being.
Hart of Dixie
Big shot New York surgeon Zoe Hart makes the (arguably impulsive) decision to move to Bluebell, Alabama after she fails to get the cardiothorasic fellowship she wanted and her boyfriend breaks up with her. Her mentor tells her she has terrible bedside manner and could do with some experience as a GP to see patients as people, not cases needing to be solved. The mysterious Dr Harley Wilks has been sending her postcards once a month since her graduation, inviting her to become a doctor in his small town, so she decides to take him up on the offer.
When Zoe arrives in Bluebell, not only is she way out of her comfort zone, but she finds out Dr Wilks has recently passed away. This is soon eclipsed by the startling news that he was actually her biological father and left his half of the GP practice to her. Hi-jinks ensue. A love triangle between Zoe, George Tucker (town golden boy and lawyer) and Wade Kinsella (town bad boy bartender, with a secret heart of gold), is made more complicated by the fact George is engaged to the town's queen bee, Lemon Breeland, who is also the daughter of Zoe's rival, Dr Brick Breeland. It's soon revealed that Lemon had an affair with the ex-NFL player and town mayor, Lavon Hayes, who is Zoe's landlord and quickly becomes her BFF.
The web that the showrunners and writers spun is nothing short of genius. When laid out like this, it sounds confusing as all hell. And in later seasons, it became even more complicated as other characters like AnnaBeth, Shelby, and Tansy all throw their hat into the small dating ring. It could have easily become a giant mess, but instead it was a roller-coaster where you could never see the next twist or plunge coming.
Big city nurse Melinda Monroe (from LA, but I may be misremembering) decides she needs a major life change and answers an ad to take on the role of nurse practitioner in the remote northern California town of Virgin River. At first, we don't really know why she left LA, but through a series of flashbacks over the season, personal trauma is revealed as the reason. She meets the handsome owner of the local bar, Jack Sheridan, who is immediately taken by her and works with the quirky town mayor to ensure Mel stays in town, despite the many reason she has to leave again.
Most of the season is focused on Mel and Jack falling for one another and overcoming various hurdles along the way. The flashbacks were occasionally almost more compelling than the central story line, and it was her past with lost husband, Mark, that kept me watching when I otherwise would have switched off. I wanted to know what had happened to him and why. This question was answered by the end of season one, and sadly, I wasn't motivated enough to continue on with season two, especially when my sister watched it and told me season two ends of a massive, frustrating cliff hanger. I really loathe cliff hangers, but maybe when season three is available, I'll consider whether I want to watch any more of it.
Comparing the two shows possibly isn't entirely fair. Hart of Dixie is a comedy drama romance, so it could often get away with ridiculous story lines. Virgin River is a romantic drama, with way more angst. Plus, oringinally airing on the CW, Hart of Dixie would skew toward a younger audience (<45 years old) while Virgin River undoubtedly captures an older demographic (>45 years old).
However, watching Virgin River made me undeniably nostalgic for Hart of Dixie, especially since Tim Matheson played town doctor in both shows. I'd originally seen Hart of Dixie as it aired on the CW between 2011 to 2015, so getting to watch it now in an ongoing binge was an absolute pleasure. There were so many things I'd forgotten about it, and I quickly fell in love with the characters and quirky but lovable town of Bluebell all over again.
Its probably easy to tell that my personal opinion is that Hart of Dixie is the better show. However, comedy drama isn't for everyone. I can see where a lot of people would find Virgin River the better show, and feel that Hart of Dixie was a little bit ridiculous sometimes. It was. But that's what made it so great.
Like so many other shows getting the reboot treatment, very late last year, several of the key actors in Hart of Dixie said they would love to reprise their roles and head back to Bluebell. The show had managed to gain new life and a brand new following on Netflix (I believe it might have since ended its run on the platform in the US. Here in Australia, its currently available on a streaming service called Stan.) and many fans were calling for Netflix -- or any other streaming service that might be interested -- to pick up the show and film a season 5. It would be really interesting to restart the series ten years later, and I'd love to see what new writers might do with it. But, down that path, showrunners and writers take the risk of destroying a legacy. And there's nothing worse than a show being revived or rebooted, only to completely suck and taint the whole franchise.
Personally, I'd love to see Zoe and Wade settled with a handful of kids and get a glimpse into what became of other beloved characters and the town of Bluebell as a whole. If the show runners managed to get back most of the original writers, then just maybe, we'd be lucky enough to see another 4 or 5 seasons of lovable Bluebell shenanigans.