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Netflix has a new No. 1 show — this just beat Stranger Things

(L) Alexandra Breckenridge as Melinda "Mel" Monroe and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan embrace in Virgin River, while (R) Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things is shocked and slightly disgusted
(Image credit: Netflix)

The latest drama on the list of top new Netflix shows finds Stranger Things dethroned again. Yes, after this past weekend saw Netflix's Resident Evil knock Stranger Things 4 off the top spot, the Hawkins kids took that spot back yesterday (July 20). But, much like Vecna, ST4's dominance hit a new speed-bump.

We just noticed the Netflix original Virgin River has kicked Stranger Things down to the No. 2 spot on the Top TV Shows in the U.S. today on the big red streaming machine. We're not going to say this trading of the top spot is proof that Netflix delivers frequent enough popular content to keep its spot on our best streaming services list, but it's a sign that Netflix can appeal to an audience that wants more than Stranger Thing's family-friendly sci-fi fantasy and Resident Evil's modern horror.

This is a solid win for Virgin River season 4, one of our picks for what to watch this weekend, as it only arrived on Netflix a few days ago, suggesting its audience was more than ready to devour its new arc. We should note that Stranger Things 4 Vol. 2 arrived 20 days earlier than Virgin River did, so its endurance on the top of the chart is not to be overlooked or undersold. (You can also check out this one Netflix show you need to binge watch right now).

But for those who haven't taken a dip in Virgin River yet, let's break down what it is, what the critics think and if you should watch it tonight!

What is Virgin River?

Virgin River is a quite popular small-town family drama series on Netflix that has been pulling the feels with romance and hijinks since 2019. It's adapted from Robyn Carr's novels of the same title. It's already been renewed for a fifth season.

In Virgin River, we follow the life of Melinda "Mel" Monroe (Alexandra Breckenridge), who begins the series as having left Los Angeles to live in the small Northern California town named — you guessed it — Virgin River. Tired of Los Angeles, Mel is pining for the wood cabin she's had her eye on in the town. Mel is here to assist the town doctor, Vernon Mullins (Tim Matheson). That's how small this town is, it has "a" town doctor.

Mel and Doc Mullins don't exactly agree on how to run the business, but more drama quickly ensues once she meets Jack Sheridan (Martin Henderson), the proprietor of local watering hole Jack's Bar. Through Jack, Mel meeds many more townsfolk. And then a baby is found on Doc's porch.

That baby's paternity isn't the only infant-based mystery on Virgin River, as season 3 ended with one character dealing with a question of who is the father of their soon-to-be-born child. Yes, that sounds mighty complicated, and we're not even diving into the half of it. We don't like to spoil things for anyone.

Virgin River reviews: What critics think

Overall on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), Virgin River has a 76% score spread out over its four seasons — but seasons 1 and 4 didn't get enough reviews to merit consensus scores. Critics haven't always ran to review Virgin River, and it's not clear why. Maybe they don't think soap operas (a descriptor that Graeme Tuckett at Stuff (opens in new tab) applies to Virgin River) need reviews. But Virgin River's popularity suggests there is an audience for it. 

Joel Keller at Decider (opens in new tab) wrote that audiences should stream Virgin River, stating that it's one of those "feel-good Hallmark shows" for those who want to "just switch off and feel cozy for a little while." He also called it "well-acted and well-written for this kind of show."

(L to R) ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE as MEL MONROE and MARTIN HENDERSON as JACK SHERIDAN sit on a log facing each other in episode 303 of VIRGIN RIVER

(Image credit: Netflix)

For season 2 (which has a 90% RT score), critical interest picked up, as Daniel Hart at Ready Steady Cut (opens in new tab) wrote "As soon as you put down Season 2, you will be wanting Season 3." Tom Long at the Detroit News (opens in new tab) dissented, writing "Every episode ends with a cliffhanger which is promptly resolved next episode. Nothing is remotely believable or challenging, everything is antiseptic."

For season 3 (63% on RT), Kaitlin Thomas at Salon (opens in new tab) praised the series for having "the right amount of romance, soap and small town charm." She also gave it credit "because it puts issues that women face in the spotlight," topics that don't get time on many other shows, including the loss of a stillborn baby and difficulties conceiving. 

Season 4 doesn't have an RT score yet, but Adam Lock at Ready Steady Cut (opens in new tab) explained the ups and downs. He notes that the "twelve episode season becomes an endurance test at times, verging on the mundane and lackadaisical," though he also admits it "borders on adequacy for the most part."

Should you watch Virgin River tonight?

While Virgin River has already found a seemingly-strong audience, we bet there are more out there susceptible to its charms. It's just that Netflix doesn't quite market the show that much. Maybe its high-ranking will help it find an audience.

You should probably check out Virgin River if you're looking for a heartfelt and sincere drama that tells personal everyday stories. Virgin River doesn't seem to change the game in any way — if you want something a lot stronger, I recommend Netflix's Maid, a different  drama that's all about a plight that women face that is under-represented in the media — but sometimes people don't need a game-changer.

Sometimes, people want comfort food-TV. And Virgin River is definitely that.

Next: I just found my favorite show of the year — and it's 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, here's the best new shows and movies to watch this weekend on Netflix, HBO Max and more. 

Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.