‘Virgin River’ writer on small towns, twists and turns and next season: ‘Cameron lives to fight another day’

Patrick Sean Smith is a fan. The screenwriter for the next season of Netflix’s hit “Virgin River” is new to the business. But he watched faithfully, noting every turn of the episodic show more meandering than its famous river. And he takes his role 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 that I achieve those goals.”

And what brands they are. The most recent season had more than 87 million viewing hours for the week of July 25 alone. It has been in the first slot on Netflix since the new season premiered. After a brief dethronement by the limited series “Keep Breathing”, it is again n°1.

Smith came to a show where the fans are dedicated and the plots both convoluted and compulsively watchable. At the end of season 4: everyone is still pregnant, but not necessarily impregnated by the people we expect. Hope faces a difficult diagnosis and her surprise, kind of grandson, is also dealing with one of his own. The new guy may be out or our beloved heroine Mel may be out (probably not though). And Jack is drinking. Still.

Meanwhile, something is going on with the drug-dealing logging camp involving betrayal, money, and threats (this storyline is trickier and harder to follow than the trek out of the woods). The man who assaulted Brie is back in her life, without her permission. And Preacher once again saves everyone’s existence while feeding them delicious healthy meals from Jack’s Bar.

Smith, screenwriter of “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” and creator of “Greek,” understands the weight of her role in the beloved series, adapted from the novels by Robyn Carr: “I want to do well with the series and its fans.”

He spoke to Salon on set about his new job amid filming the next season of “Virgin River,” dipping into a trailer to escape the heat of Vancouver, who portrays Northern California on the show. “We’re there now,” he says, “but I’m glad everyone sees it.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

“Virgin River” is loved by so many people, including my mother. She’s glad I’m talking with you. What do you think makes the show so appealing? What do you think makes him love it?

I think it’s a really interesting mix of things. I think of the beginning: the fact that it wasn’t dark. How hopeful. He is gentle in his narration. How thoughtful. that he is timely. Also let it not forget the importance of twists, surprises and cliffhangers, and the kind of fun popcorn element you want with entertainment, which 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 it has that you have to maintain.

One of the things I love is the community. Just that the city is so alive 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 something is about the community.”

It’s inspiring just seeing him already in the cast. I know it seems like everyone’s cliché as family, but there’s such closeness in this cast that I think is rare and special. This translates to the chemistry they all have on screen.

With so much seemingly fractured in our world today, being able to watch people get along, support and challenge each other, and then also love each other — I spoke to someone and they said: I hate to admit it, but I watched the show and it makes me feel good. And I was like, this shouldn’t be controversial. We shouldn’t watch entertainment and feel bad because something is about the community or talk about loss or grief or love and think: getting darker 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 kind of had that experience. But what I also like about the show is that some small town shows get quirky or whimsical. Even with the kind of grittier crime stories that I think keep the show timely, the show feels real. They feel like real people. It looks 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] never tries to be sickening or like it has to present a small town in a way that is acceptable to a mass audience, i.e. something cute and funny.

You mentioned some of the grittier storylines. There are a lot of trauma in “Virgin River” and some of them are very unrealistic and some of them are actually very real: Jack’s PTSD from being a veteran and Brie’s PTSD from sexual assault. As a writer, how do you handle these stories?

Respectfully and responsibly. We do our research. We reach out to organizations that offer resources. And there are so many out there. Any form of entertainment, if it does not seek authenticity, is missing out on an incredible resource.

With Brie’s script, we’re working specifically with RAINN, and they’ve been incredibly insightful about what her experience would be like. I think our approach to writing the show is when it comes to something like that, if we haven’t had it, how can we presume to be able to tell it fairly and accurately? So working together with an organization [whose] the goal is to help survivors and through storytelling, helping them see their stories accurately, is a great opportunity.

Virgin RiverGrayson Maxwell Gurnsey as Ricky and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan in ‘Virgin River’ (Courtesy of Netflix)With PTSD and the military, we work really, really hard to do all of our homework. Even some scripts, they’ll go through three, four, five different organizations. . . and also as we create the stories we use [organizations] as a resource.

It’s also important that these scenarios are not abandoned, that they are an ongoing 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, it’s also about talking to people intimately.

There have been a few times where we’ve been called out for not taking these storylines to a necessarily sensationalized place, which we’re not exploiting it for the sake of entertainment, but really trying to tell these stories with respect and with a sense of responsibility. . . We have such a deep medium, and taking responsibility for what you put out was really important.

We also got some new characters last season, including Cameron, who I’m a fan of. I actually wrote an article on justice for cameron, in Cameron’s defense. Can we expect to see it in the future? Will he return in season 5?

Well, I can’t say to what extent, but we had a bit of a spoiler on social media. You could see actor Mark [Ghanimé] was at our first table reading. So I will say Cameron lives to fight another day, at least in one episode. But for all the Cam fans out there, you’ll just have to watch the following episodes to see what’s up with this story.

How did he handle the fan reactions? Due to its popularity, there’s probably so much pressure on this show and so much expectation. How do you handle all of this?

I don’t deal with it directly. Nobody cares about me. They have a much prettier cast to hang on to, but I will say that while the cast is reading the scripts, if there’s anything they want to talk about or touch on, it’s a lot thanks to fan outreach. I know Zibby [Allen], who plays Brie, has heard a lot about a community of people who have been sexually assaulted. We also talk about domestic violence. I think when they hear directly from fans, we all take on a greater responsibility to know that the show is having an impact. The show has its effect. It’s not just about entertaining people, it’s also about talking to people intimately.

Virgin RiverBenjamin Hollingsworth as Brady and Zibby Allen as Brie in ‘Virgin River’ (Courtesy of Netflix)You also inherited many cliffhangers. How do you balance all of these storylines?

It was a gift. I have so much respect and admiration for what Sue Tenney has created. As a writer who also likes to tell character stories, the fact that she was able to do this without a corpse at the beginning or zombies or apocalypse, it touched so many people. I think that’s another thing that I feel very responsible for [for]to continue this legacy.

What can you tease for the next season?

We just shot the first two episodes now. . . I hope [Season 5] comes out next year. I do not know when. I couldn’t speculate, but what I’m really excited to do – and I think I have the gift of perspective, being the outside guy who watched the first four seasons – one of the things that I wanted to do when I arrived was to start seeing characters that I haven’t seen interact in a long time, like Jack and Hope.

Virgin RiverTim Matheson as Doc Mullins and Annette O’Toole as Hope in ‘Virgin River’ (Courtesy of Netflix)They had a really big storyline from season 1 to season 2, which I think spoke well of their relationship. It leaves me with so many questions about how they got into each other’s lives and what role do they play in each other’s lives? I feel like we haven’t seen this in a while. Hopefully Season 5 will be like previous seasons, but with new ways to access the characters you already know.

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You have such a rich canvas. There is this city to draw from. It makes sense that we wanted to see people interact with characters they didn’t have before, have new stories with them.

It’s a bit of a journey through the show in that all the cliffhangers impose a certain rhythm on the story and it is sometimes difficult to make characters cross paths, because they are already in their own story. . . It’s very difficult, but I think we set the intention to be able to bring these characters together in a way that we’ve never seen. It will look like something you wanted, but maybe you didn’t. known as you want 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 that? Can you tell your colleagues about it?

Journalist: I have no interest in the episodes. There will be more.

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about “Virgin River”