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12 Shows Like Virgin River To Binge While You Wait For Next Season

Netflix's steamy drama "Virgin River" has been a hit for the streaming service since its premiere in 2019. The story of big city nurse Mel (Alexandra Breckinridge), who moves to the titular northern California town to start her life over, had audiences swooning over the lush scenery (Vancouver subbing in for Humboldt County) as much as the chemistry between Mel and Jack (Martin Henderson), the local bar owner she can't keep away from. Based on the series of novels by Robyn Carr, the show combines quirky small town humor and medical drama, balancing heavy topics like postpartum depression and PTSD with soapy twists, turns, and cliffhangers. This is comfort TV at its best.

Netflix renewed the series for at least two more seasons in September 2021, ensuring that this "River" will continue to run. But if those episodes can't come fast enough, here are a dozen other shows that will give you similar feels.  

Bridgerton

The first season of Netflix's "Bridgerton" became an unexpected phenomenon when it premiered in December 2020. It turns out that a sexy spin through alternate-history Regency England was just what everyone was waiting for while stuck at home during quarantine. 

Phoebe Dynevor stars as Daphne, eldest daughter of the wealthy Bridgerton family and star debutante of the season, whose protective father and headstrong ways have left her without a suitable suitor. Enter Simon, Duke of Hastings (breakout star Rege-Jean Page) a notorious cad who refuses to marry. The two strike up a deal to pretend to be madly in love with each other in order to stoke jealousy in her potential suitor, while also giving him a break from so many heartbroken young ladies (and their mothers).

All the while, London high society is dying to know the identity of the mysterious Lady Whistledown (voiced in narration by Julie Andrews), who is publishing everyone's secrets in a scandal sheet like an 18th century Gossip Girl. Season 2 of "Bridgerton" is on the way in 2022, which is the perfect excuse to binge the 16-episode first season today.

Dead to Me

If Netflix's "Dead to Me" had stuck with its original premise — an unexpected friendship between two widows (Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini) navigating grief — that would have made for a fine show. But series creator Liz Feldman had far more up her sleeve, and by the end of the first episode the show revealed itself to be an addictive murder mystery, with secrets, lies, betrayals, and James Marsden playing identical twins.

Each episode ends on a cliffhanger designed to keep you hitting "Yes" when Netflix asks if you are still watching. But the real appeal of the series is the opposites-attract chemistry of Applegate and Cardellini, doing some of the best work of their careers as two women with nothing in common but their shared grief, supporting one another in some of the most well-dressed homes in southern California. After Season 2 premiered in 2020, Feldman and Netflix announced that Season 3, expected to drop in 2022, would be the series' last.

Emily in Paris

As light and pretty as a souffle, the 2020 Netflix series "Emily in Paris" stars Lily Collins as the eponymous American, who takes a job with a French marketing firm (despite speaking no French) and is thrust into the sexy, high-stakes world of haute couture. Developed by "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star, it has earned its reputation as a very silly, very watchable show. Entertainment Weekly called Season 1 "a five-hour brain vacation," while IndieWire described it as the equivalent of scrolling through Instagram. 

The show earned controversy in 2021, when the Los Angeles Times reported that before "Emily in Paris" received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress and Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy), its parent company Paramount Network flew 30 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to Paris for a two-night stay at the luxurious Peninsula Hotel. Would the show have been nominated without treating the nominating body to a Parisian vacation? Stream Season 1 today and decide for yourself.

Firefly Lane

Based on Kristin Hannah's novel of the same name, Netflix's 2021 series "Firefly Lane" follows two lifelong friends from the early 1970s up through the 2000s. Television veterans Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke play Tully and Kate, who grew up together on the titular street, bonding over a shared passion for journalism. But while Tully chased career success and is a popular but lonely TV host in the show's contemporary scenes, Kate chose to marry and raise a family. Now, looking down the barrel of middle age as a fresh divorcee, Kate must rediscover what makes her happy.

The show follows the lead of "This is Us," employing a flashback structure with young actors playing Tully and Kate as teenagers, while Heigl and Chalke play the characters from their mid-20s to their mid-40s (often in ridiculous period costumes and wigs). While the plots of the ten-episode first season sometimes strain credulity, the best and most believable aspect of the series is the eternal friendship of Kate and Tully. Heigl and Chalke give the characters depth and warmth that the scripts often lack.

Ginny and Georgia

Many viewers' first exposure to the 2021 Netflix series "Ginny and Georgia" was the viral "Oppression Olympics" scene, or perhaps the kerfuffle caused by a not-particularly-clever Taylor Swift joke. Or perhaps they heard that the show was a "Gilmore Girls" clone about a precocious mother-daughter duo living and loving in an idyllic New England town.

These aren't rumors; everything in the preceding paragraph is an element of the show, even if the viral bits don't tell the whole story. While the premise shares some similarities to "Gilmore Girls" in the uncomfortably close relationship between 30-year-old Georgia (Brianne Howey) and her 15-year-old daughter Ginny (Antonia Gentry), the show is much more clear-eyed about just how uncomfortable that relationship really is. The "Oppression Olympics" scene is embarrassing out of context, but speaks to the show's willingness to address, however awkwardly, Ginny's biracial identity and her struggles in this very white town. As for the T-Swift joke, well, that is pretty played out.

Grey's Anatomy

This ABC monolith, on the air since 2005, with nearly 400 episodes, might be a little tough to binge. Here's the amazing part: there's still more to come.

The first series created by "Bridgerton" producer and Queen of Television Shonda Rhimes, "Grey's Anatomy" started as little more than a primetime soap about young, sexy doctors at the fictional Seattle Grace hospital. Ellen Pompeo plays lead character Meredith Grey, the daughter of a famous surgeon struggling to prove herself among fellow interns Christina (Sandra Oh) and Izzy (Katherine Heigl), while pursuing a relationship with Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), AKA "McDreamy."

But after nearly two decades on the air, the show has become its own galaxy, subject to all the forces of life itself: Aging and death, growth and stasis. Cast members and characters have come and gone as quickly as in real life, with Meredith and Pompeo on hand to witness it all. And if the show's plot twists and bomb threats and trips to the afterlife seem wildly outlandish, are they any more bananas than a global pandemic keeping people in their homes, binge-watching TV, for the last two years?

Hart of Dixie

Almost a decade before "Virgin River," there was "Hart of Dixie." The 2011 WB series starred Rachel Bilson ("The O.C.") as Zoe Hart, an acerbic New York doctor who inherits a general practice in small-town Alabama from the father she never knew. Before long, she is running afoul of the quirky yet suspicious locals and coming between local lawyer George (Scott Porter) and his fiancee, while also falling for hunky neighbor Wade (Wilson Bethel) after a lot of waffling back and forth.

Executive produced by Bilson's "O.C." boss Josh Schwartz, the series' use of its Southern setting wasn't always the most sensitive, often indulging in cliches, if not stereotypes, of the region. But the show's appeal was in its warmth and familiarity, its bright and funny lead actress, its mixing of small town quaintness and medical show gravitas, and its casting of Tim Matheson as a country doctor. Perhaps the "Virgin River" team was taking notes.

Heartland

The longest-running drama in Canadian television history, the CBC modern-day Western "Heartland" aired its first season in 2007 and wrapped up its 15th at the end of 2021. Based on the YA novel series by Lauren Brooke, the show tells the story of Alberta teen Amy Fleming (Amber Marshall) and her big-city older sister Lou (Michelle Morgan), who take on operations of their family's horse ranch Heartland after the death of their mother. The ranch specializes in healing abused animals using natural horsemanship (popularly known as "horse whispering"); just as the horses in their care must learn to heal and trust again, so must Amy and her family.

Like "Grey's Anatomy," binge-watching the entire series can be daunting, but there is a poignancy to it, particularly in watching Amy grow from an unsure teen to a self-possessed woman to a mother of her own. The wide open Albertan plains, meanwhile, will make any urbanite want to make like Lou and leave the city to jump on a horse.

Kitz

The lives of the young, beautiful, and snowy are exposed in 2021 German Netflix import "Kitz." Working-class Munich teen Lisi (Sofie Eifertinger) gets a job serving at a party thrown by socialite and would-be influencer Vanessa (Valerie Huber). When Lisi rescues Vanessa from a masked assailant breaking into her bedroom, Vanessa thanks Lisi by inviting her to the party as a guest and welcoming her into Vanessa's ultra-rich, decadent social scene. But it was all a fake-out; the masked man and Lisi's rescue were planned in advance, as part of Lisi's revenge scheme against Vanessa, whom she blames for her brother's death one year earlier.

"Kitz" gets its kicks from that sort of twisty-plotting and knotty motivations, the more incredulous the better. Eifertinger grounds the proceedings in recognizable emotions and gives the intentionally shallow world of a wealthy German ski resort some depth. The other young actors do their best in more underwritten parts, and seem mostly on hand to be impossibly attractive and glamorous.

Last Tango in Halifax

From its cheeky title forward, the BBC One series "Last Tango in Halifax" takes an unusual look at love and lust in a small town — specifically, love and lust for lovers of a certain age. Anne Reid and stage legend Derek Jacobi play Celia and Alan, teenage sweethearts who lost touch after Celia's family moved away. Now, more than 50 years later, the two reconnect on Facebook and find that their love is just as strong as it was in the 1950s.

Playwright Sarah Wainwright based the series on her own mother's second marriage. As much as the series delights in Alan and Celia's second chance at love, it doesn't ignore the struggles of the adult children (and grandchildren) from their first marriages. Sarah Lancashire shines in particular as Celia's daughter Caroline, who begins the series approaching middle age, yet has still not come out to her mother. After four seasons and 24 episodes (including a two-part Christmas special), "Last Tango" aired its series finale in October 2020; all episodes are available on Netflix.

Sweet Magnolias

Maddie (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) is reeling from her recent divorce. Dana Sue (Brooke Elliott) is a perfectionist chef working through the trust issues her ex-husband left behind. Helen (Heather Hedley) is a career woman wondering if the time to have children has passed her by. These three friends, known collectively as "Sweet Magnolias," live in the idyllic fictional hamlet of Serenity, South Carolina, caring for one another with warmth, humor, and margaritas on the couch.

Based on Sherryl Woods' novel series, this 2020 Netflix series is dedicated to its small, human-sized stakes. Maddie, Dana Sue, and Helen work to open a spa, but there are no dark alley deals, or even serious setbacks. Until a climactic car accident in the season finale, there are none of the life-or-death situations that spice up even a low-key show like "Virgin River." Instead, the appeal comes from the camaraderie of the three leads, the warmth of their friendship emanating from the television. If a show can be comfort food, "Sweet Magnolias" might be the comfort food-iest.

This is Us

NBC's "This Is Us" might just be the most guaranteed tear-jerker of the past decade. A critical and commercial hit upon its premiere in 2016, the show follows the Pearson triplets — Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and adopted Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — as they navigate their own lives and the legacy left behind by their parents. Flashbacks to when the "big three" were growing up showcase their parents Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore), while occasional flash-forwards show their grown children dealing with issues of their own.

Series creator Dan Fogelman made a point of having a group of diverse artists behind the scenes, which was especially important in crafting the characters of Kate and Randall. Kate's struggles with being overweight were inspired by Fogelman's sister; for Randall, the writing staff consulted with experts in transracial adoption, proving the old writing adage that the more specific a detail, the more universal it becomes.

The sixth and final season of "This Is Us" premiered in early January 2022, making this (or anytime) a perfect time to binge the entire series. Just keep an eye on that crock pot.