Patrick Sean Smith is a fan. The writer for the upcoming season of Netflix’s smash hit “Virgin River” is new on the job. But he has been faithfully watching, noting every twist in the episodic spectacle more twisted than his famous river. And he takes the part of him very seriously. As he puts it, entering Season 5 as “the new guy,” Smith is “looking at what resonates so successfully with so many people and making sure to hit those marks.”
And what brands are they? The most recent season had more than 87 million hours of viewing in the week of July 25 alone. It has been in the top spot on Netflix since the new season premiered. After a brief dethronement by the “Keep Breathing” limited series, he is back at #1.
Smith has made it to a show that fans are devoted to and the plots are intricate and compulsively watchable. At the end of season 4: They’re all still pregnant, but not necessarily pregnant with the people we’re expecting. Hope is dealing with a difficult diagnosis and to her surprise, a grandson of sorts, she is also dealing with one of her own. The new guy may be out or our beloved heroine Mel may be out (although probably not). And Jack is drinking. Again.
Meanwhile, something is going on with the drug logging camp involving betrayal, cash, and threats (that story is thornier and harder to follow than the trek out of the woods). The man who assaulted Brie is back in his life, without his permission. And Preacher is once again saving everyone’s existence as he feeds them delicious and healthy meals from Jack’s Bar.
Smith, writer of “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” and creator of “Greek,” understands the weight of his role on the beloved series, adapted from the Robyn Carr novels: “I want to do what’s right for the show and its fans.”
He spoke with Salon on the set of his new job in the midst of filming the upcoming season of “Virgin River,” crawling into a trailer to escape the heat in Vancouver, which represents Northern California on the show. “We’re on it now,” he says, “but I’m excited for everyone to see it.”
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
“Virgin River” is loved by many people, including my mother. She is excited that she is talking to you. What do you think makes the show so engaging? What do you think makes it loved?
I think it’s a very interesting mix of things. I think at first: the fact that it wasn’t dark. Which is hopeful. That he is soft in his narration. Make it reflective. what that it is prompt. Also don’t forget the importance of twists, surprises and cliffhangers, and the fun element of popcorn that you want with the entertainment, that gets people excited. I think a lot of people see it as kind of a straightforward character drama, but I think it’s really unique in all the elements that it has to keep.
One of the things I love about it is the community. Only the city is so vivid and loving and supportive. Few shows have that now I think. How do you create that sense of real community?
“We shouldn’t watch entertainment and feel bad because it has something to do with the community.”
It’s inspiring just to see him already in the cast. I know it sounds like the cliché that everyone is like family, but there’s so much closeness in this cast that I think is rare and special. That translates to the chemistry they all have on screen.
With so much that is seemingly fractured in our world today, to be able to see people get along and support and challenge each other, and then also love each other, I talked to someone and they said, I hate to admit it, but I watched the show and it makes me feel right. And I was like, that shouldn’t be controversial. We shouldn’t watch the entertainment and feel bad because it has something to do with the community. or it is about a loss or a duel or a love and you think: darkening is better.
Alexandra Breckenridge as Mel Monroe and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan in “Virgin River” (Courtesy of Netflix)And the idea of community: I grew up in a small town, so I had that experience. But what I also appreciate about the show is that some shows about small towns get quirky or whimsical. Even with the kind of grittier crime stories that I think make the show timely, the show feels real. They feel like real people. It feels like a city you would drive through. You would stop at a place like Jack’s Bar and these are the people you would see there. [The show] it never tries to be cloying or has to present a small town in a way that is acceptable to a mass audience, which is: cute and fun.
You mentioned some of the bravest stories. there are a lot of trauma in “Virgin River” and some of it is very unrealistic and some of it is really very real: Jack’s PTSD from being a combat veteran and Brie’s PTSD from sexual assault. As a writer, how do you handle those stories?
With respect and responsibility. We do our research. We contact organizations that offer resources. And there are so many out there. Any form of entertainment, if you’re not looking for authenticity, you’re missing out on an incredible resource.
With Brie’s story, we’re working specifically with RAINN, and they’ve been incredibly insightful as to what her experience would be. I think our approach to writing the show is when it comes to something like that, if we haven’t had it, how do we suppose we can tell it fairly and accurately? So, to work together with an organization [whose] The goal is to help survivors, and through storytelling, helping them see their stories accurately is a great opportunity.
Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey as Ricky and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan in “Virgin River” (Courtesy of Netflix)With PTSD and people in the military, we work very, very hard to do all of our homework. Even some scripts will go through three, four, five different organizations. . . and also, as we come up with stories, we use [organizations] as a resource.
It’s also important that those stories are not written off, that they are a constant problem for the characters as they would be in life. They keep coming back for Brie and for Jack.
“It’s not just about entertaining people, but also talking to them intimately.“
There were a few occasions where we were criticized for not taking those stories to a necessarily sensational place, which we are No exploiting it for the sake of entertainment, but really trying to tell these stories with respect and a sense of responsibility. . . We have such a deep medium, and taking responsibility for what you’re posting was really important.
We also had some new characters last season, including Cameron, who I’m a fan of. In fact, I wrote an article about justice for cameron, in defense of Cameron. Can we expect to see it in the future? Is he coming back in season 5?
Well, I can’t say to what extent, but we did have a little spoiler via social media. Did you get to see the actor Mark [Ghanimé] It was at our first table reading. So I will say that Cameron lives to fight another day, at least in one episode. But for all you Cam fans out there, you’ll just have to watch the later episodes to see what happens with this story.
How have you been dealing with the fan reactions? Due to its popularity, there is probably so much pressure on this show and so many expectations. How do you carry all that?
I don’t handle it directly. Nobody cared. They have a much prettier cast to hold on to, but I will say that as the cast reads the scripts, if there’s anything they want to talk about or address, it’s very much through the reach of the fans. i know zibby [Allen], who plays Brie, has heard a lot from a community of people who have experienced sexual assault. We also talk about domestic violence. I think when they hear directly from the fans, we all take more responsibility to know that the show has an impact. The show has an effect. It’s not just about entertaining people, but also talking to them intimately.
Benjamin Hollingsworth as Brady and Zibby Allen as Brie in “Virgin River” (Courtesy of Netflix)You have also inherited many suspenseful moments. How do you balance all these plot lines?
Was a present. I have a lot of respect and admiration first for what Sue Tenney created. As a writer who also loves to tell character stories, the fact that she was able to do it without a dead body at the beginning, zombies, or an apocalypse resonates with a lot of people. I think that’s another thing that I feel very responsible for. [for]to carry on that legacy.
What can you anticipate for the next season?
Right now we’re just shooting the first two episodes. . . Wait [Season 5] it comes out next year. I don’t know when. I couldn’t speculate, but what I’m really excited about doing, and I think I have a gift of perspective, being the outsider guy who watched the first four seasons, one of the things I wanted to do when I got here was start seeing characters. he hadn’t seen interact in a long time, like Jack and Hope.
Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins and Annette O’Toole as Hope in “Virgin River” (Courtesy of Netflix)They had a great storyline from season 1 to season 2, which I thought spoke well for their relationship. It creates a lot of questions for me about how they came into each other’s lives and what role they play in each other’s lives. I feel like we haven’t seen that in a long time. I hope that Season 5 feels like the previous seasons, but with new forms of the characters you already know.
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You have such a rich canvas. It is not that city to draw. It makes sense that we want to see people interacting with characters they haven’t done before, having new stories with them.
It’s a bit of a journey in the show where all the cliffhangers set a certain pace for the story and sometimes it’s hard to make the characters cross over, because they’re already in their own story. . . It’s very challenging, but I think we set the intention to be able to bring these characters together in a way that we haven’t seen. It will feel like something you’ve been wanting, but may not have. known that you wanted it until you see it.
My mom has a request and her request is more episodes. She said there weren’t enough episodes. So she wants more in this next season please.
[To publicist] Did you get it? Can you take that to your colleagues?
Publicist: I have no pull in the episodes. There will be more.
about “Virgin River”