Yuppies and country bumpkins; those two retro terms are good descriptions of the population that makes up Virgin River, a bucolic, small town nestled somewhere beyond San Francisco and before northernmost Crescent City. Of course Virgin River is fictional and based on a series of books by Robyn Carr so none of that matters. Yet Netflix show writers seem to have fun by having the characters talk about (fictional) nearby towns with similar names such as Salt Creek and “something”-springs (Full disclosure, this writer recently worked for Netflix’s fan website, and this was and still is a favorite show).
In Virgin River there are picturesque lakes, creeks, springs, and streams. Everyone meets at the local diner/restaurant/bar that happens to serve perfect burgers and gourmet food prepared by a chef who could have his choice of job at any Michelin-listed restaurant. Well, he actually did but that’s another story.
The characters’ homes have modern add-ons while remaining retro and cozy. Houses are nestled along winding roads and up slight hills for privacy. The weather is perfectly chilly/autumn-like or perfectly spring. There are places for picnics and a coffee truck that sells homemade pastries. Watching the show is cozy, but don’t you wish you could actually live there? What if Virgin River was a Stardew Valley meets The Sims game that allowed us to play out the beats of the show, just like this, for full immersion? (Metaverse here we come?)
Let’s call it Virgin River: Origins because come on—we know there will be additional games in this cozy franchise. You play as surgical nurse Melinda Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge, now voice acting) who’s recently moved to the town after her husband’s death. Hope McCrea (Annette O’Toole), the mayor of the town, welcomes you at the rustic cabin Melinda purchased, but it’s in major disrepair. We’re talking a full rebuild. Then Mayor Hope wanders off. Good luck!
The player then goes for a frustrated walk and stumbles across “Jack’s Bar,” a large restaurant/bar combo. Inside, you meet the handsome owner, Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson). He looks at Melinda a moment too long as she sits at the bar. Do you return the long look? Of course you do! And then Jack offers to help rebuild the cabin.
But first, Melinda has to go to work at her new job as a nurse to the local Dr. Mullins (Tim Mathison), aka Doc at his office/clinic. He shows off what looks like a house converted into offices (he kept the drapes!) yet fully equipped with everything he needs to help patients—except perhaps not enough coffee brewing. You can choose to tell Doc about the cabin or remain without shelter, but if you select the former (which is canon), Doc takes you to the mayor’s house.
Mayor Hope’s house sits on a short hill and up flat stone steps. She welcomes you with warm hospitality. The decor in the living area is somewhere between early 20th century and Waverly, but with a state-of-the-art kitchen complete with steel refrigerator, large island, and Chesapeake-style windows to look out as one holds their coffee mug. Like what you see? You can also go upstairs and see the many bedrooms, choosing one to make your own.
Melinda will always find good food at Jack’s, which is consistently packed with customers—but never too many to form a line. Jack is usually there; however, you have also tasked him with rebuilding your cabin. So while Melinda settles into living with Hope and handles the stress from Doc Mullin’s cranky chauvinism, Jack has enlisted his staff cook, John aka “Preacher” Middleton (Colin Lawrence) to hold down the fort while he grabs some buddies to remodel the cabin. (Players can adjust the nearby stream and level of romantic moonlight.)
Preacher is popular, as he adds special dishes to the menu that all the local Riverians love. His menu changes each week, which is the perfect excuse for a mini-game for foodies.
Other NPCs adding color to the show, or er, game, include Lizzie (Sarah Dugdale) who comes to Virgin River to stay with her gossipy grandmother Connie (Nicola Cavendish), and who falls for Jack’s Bar’s young waiter, Ricky (Grayson Maxwell Gurnesey). Meanwhile, Jack’s other waiter Dan Brady (Ben Hollingsworth) can’t seem to stay out of trouble. (There could be a Virgin River: Rogue spinoff set around his unlawful exploits.)
The idealistic town also draws family members such as Melinda’s urbane sis Joey (Jenny Cooper), who occasionally visits or calls from yoga classes or uncrowded Los Angeles parks and beaches (uncrowded in LA?) But this is sim-game heaven: let’s dress her in athleisure-wear while walking and talking!
There’s also Jack’s legal eagle sister, Bria Sheridan (Zibby Allen), who falls in love with the uncrowded sidewalks and small shops that can be explored while in the game. The dress shop, suit shop, boutique, tea shop, card shop, book shop, variety store (if you don’t know, Google it!) tool and dye shop… both on Main Street, or in any one of those nearby towns with the creek and springs names. (Yes there is in-game currency, no there are not microtransactions!)
Back at the cabin, Jack has finally turned Melinda’s home into a sturdy, upscale wooded hideaway, complete with perfectly appointed flower arrangements, sleigh bed with fluffy pillows, and comforter. Outside there’s new landscaping and lawn chairs that players can also pick out. Now, let’s let these two sit outside in that perfect moonlight with drinks or cups of tea…. (and where our dialogue choices thus far mean they will gaze longingly at each other).
But! All is not wrapped up at the end of this fantasy Sims game, and certainly not the real-life show. In both Virgin River and our (Sims) Virgin River: Origins, new characters are introduced who will try to break up Jack and Melinda’s romance. Plus, there’s a side quest to answer the question: who is Preacher’s secret love? Not to mention, what’s going on with Doc and Hope? Will evil developers (note: not game devs) try to move in and change this oasis into a city? In fact, hang on… Virgin River: The Evil Developers can be the first DLC.
The first three seasons of Virgin River are available to stream on Netflix; Season 4 will premiere July 20, 2022. The Sims: Virgin River, meanwhile, just lives rent-free in our heads.
Diedre Johnson is a Los Angeles-based writer covering entertainment in its many forms. You can follow her @diedremichelle.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.