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Hein’s Picks: Virgin River and the Art of Dopey Soapy TV

PLUS: The Captain, Last Movie Stars, Trying Season 3, and more.
  • Martin Henderson and Alexandra Breckenridge in a scene from Virgin River Season 4. (Photo: Netflix)
    Martin Henderson and Alexandra Breckenridge in a scene from Virgin River Season 4. (Photo: Netflix)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    We all have our guilty pleasures... especially when it comes to TV. There are shows with ridiculous premises that make us laugh (Wipeout). There are the ones for young children that appeal to adults (Yo Gabba Gabba). There are ridiculous contests with over-the-top behavior (Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest).

    Then there are learned guilty pleasures. The shows you start watching because you're with someone else who enjoys it, and gradually you become addicted. It could be anything... a sporting event, a reality show, or a sappy soap opera. Once you're hooked, you're hooked.

    I love watching TV with my wife, and she has a soft spot for romance on the small screen. I enjoy watching these shows with her because I know she enjoys it, and it reminds us of different stages in our relationship. I've been "stuck" watching thirtysomething, Once and Again, and Sex and the City and honestly ended up enjoying each program.

    The latest entrant into this category is Virgin River. The fourth season of this Netflix romantic drama premieres Wednesday, and my wife and I cannot get enough of this tale set in the Pacific Northwest. I have become invested in the fate of Mel and Jack's romance in that quaint little town. How did I get here?

    Virgin River is not winning any Emmys. That's not the purpose of this program. It's comfort food. The beautiful exteriors and soap opera plot lines go down easy. It feels like a romance novel on screen with some pretty good acting mixed in.

    The show is at its best when it focuses on the romance between its two leads, Jack and Mel. The first season is a sweet tale of Mel coming to town and finding her way as Jack falls for the young nurse practitioner. The chemistry is evident, and the romance is bittersweet. Doc, Hope, Preacher and the rest of the locals have their subplots, but it's all in service of the main storyline.

    When the show extends beyond its two leads, look out. Any dramatic turns feel like a soap opera. Other romances are convenient and don't ring as true. This season, there's an episode at a renaissance fair that’s particularly painful to watch.

    But it doesn't matter. This is cheesy TV at its finest, and you cannot stop watching. Season four is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a show like this. There are plot twists and turns, but everything centers around Jack and Mel figuring things out as life gets complicated in their simple town.

    I've debated taking my wife on a trip out to the real Jack's Bar to see the show’s gorgeous Virgin River locations firsthand. Watching this dramatic romance brings us closer, and there's no better TV time than that.

    Here's what else is worth watching this week…

    PREMIERES

    The Captain (ESPN)
    Monday, July 18th 10:00 PM ET

    The biggest surprise about this seven-part documentary is that it actually got made. The notoriously private captain of the Yankees let us in to his personal life and growth as a baseball phenom.

    Comparisons to Michael Jordan and The Last Dance are inevitable. Jeter always came through in the clutch and had a love for winning. All of those rings are testament to a throwback ballplayer who just went out there and played. Watch trailer.

    The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)
    Thursday, July 21

    Ethan Hawke directs this six-part profile of legendary Hollywood couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. They simply don't make couples like this anymore.

    Well before the days of seeing every movement of any two actors who decide to get together, Newman and Woodward set the gold standard when it came to coupling stars. All relationships have peaks and valleys, but these two beautiful people thrived with all eyes upon them.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    Trying (Apple TV+)
    Friday, July 22nd

    The third season of this British comedy features new parents Nikki and Jason struggling with their two new kids. Be careful what you wish for. Watch trailer.

    THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
    (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

    The Day The Music Died (Paramount+) - A documentary about the Don McLean classic tune "American Pie." Tuesday.

    MLB All-Star Game (FOX) - The best in baseball show their stuff in Dodger Stadium. Tuesday.

    The ESPYs (ABC) - Athletes in fancy outfits attend an awards show for sports. Seriously. Wednesday.

    GREATEST HITS
    (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

    This Week's Pick: Hannibal (Hulu) - The Will Graham/Hannibal Lecter story has been told in multiple films and TV series. This take starring Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy in the lead roles goes deep, especially when you consider that it was on NBC.

    Previous Picks:
    Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
    Downton Abbey (Peacock)
    Banshee (HBO Max)
    Police Squad! (Prime Video)
    Party Down (Starz)
    Dexter (Showtime)
    Alias (Hulu/Disney+)
    The Great (Hulu)
    Atypical (Netflix)
    Sherlock (PBS)
    Magic City (Peacock)
    Imposters (Netflix)
    Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
    For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
    Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    Damages (Hulu)
    Luther (HBO Max)
    Downton Abbey (Netflix)
    Justified (Hulu)
    The Good Wife (Paramount+)
    Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
    Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
    Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
    The Split (Prime Video)
    Bordertown (Netflix)
    Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

    ---

    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Virgin River, Netflix, The Captain, The Last Movie Stars, Trying