This week, Bridgerton has taken over the charts at Netflix, and I will watch it. But before moving on, a few words about the Virgin River series which placed consistently in Netflix’s Top Five rankings for several weeks. I’ve read all the books in the series and binged both seasons on TV. Perhaps that makes me a fan. But it’s hard to put away my reviewer’s hat, and I’m always looking critically at what I read and watch. When a book or show carries me away and my Reviewer Brain takes a nap, I know I’ve struck gold.
On the books side of the equation, when I read any book in the Virgin River series, I’m carried on the flow. I agree with our review of the first book – don’t look for over-dramatized action, just solid realistic emotions in small town life, where everyone has a past and a story. In fact, the stories and the past are the reasons people move to the town in the middle of the forest. Among the lives of the town’s inhabitants and their gathering around Jack’s bar and Preacher’s food for community and support, each book focuses on the romance of one couple. Jack and Mel are first, followed by Paige and Preacher, Brie Sheridan and Mike Valenzuela (who have not yet shown up in town in the Netflix version), and so on. It’s a good way to structure a book series, and I find myself moving along with Robyn Carr’s voice and rhythm as if floating on an inner tube on a Class 1 river – gentle ripples and waves with some rapids to navigate, but a safe shore at every ending. Reviewer Brain goes on vacation. There are several series I read for the author’s voice; this is one of them.
The Netflix production takes a different tack – different medium, different rhythm. In a continuing TV series, telling stories needs more visual action to keep attention. Doc and Hope’s marriage, the strong presence of the pot growers, Jack’s attitude toward Charmaine, and the handling of Paige’s ex-husband with uncharacteristic illegality are not part of the books but are, I suspect, part of the writers’ focus on keeping tensions high and moving the multiple storylines forward. In the small screen version, I particularly dislike Hope’s character. She’s so self-absorbed, she acts cruelly, then bemoans the fact that she has lost a relationship and declares the injured party should be quick to forgive because “she was just trying to help.” In the books, the character is a meddler par excellence, but she does consider others and stops short of deep damage.
I’m fairly sure that if I hadn’t read the books first, I would have had no complaints about the streaming series. Robyn Carr is getting the important “based on the books by” acknowledgement as well as acting as an executive producer, so she has some leverage in deciding how her stories are depicted. I’m sure I would have gone on a hunt for the books had I watched the show first. However, since I did read the books first, I accept, as I do for many screen adaptations, that the two versions have different goals in mind and may only resemble each other on a superficial level. But on screen, I’m disappointed in Hope’s portrayal and seriously displeased with the direction they’ve taken Preacher’s character. Season 3 has been given the green light, and I’ll give it a chance, but with my sceptics’ hat is now firmly in place.