You need to watch Jane the Virgin. I usually would write a whole introduction here about how the fall season’s underway and stuff, but I need to convey the urgency of this idea: Jane the Virgin is a wonderful show, and by not watching it, you are missing out one of the savviest, sharpest new shows in years.
Jane’s a tough sell: It’s a telenovela on the CW, and it’s about a pregnant virgin who, thanks to a distracted gynecologist, was accidentally inseminated with the sperm of a rich, unhappy hotelier, Rafael. You know, dramz. While this premise immediately appeals to me, I get that’s not true for everyone, so I’ll add that the show uses that cockamamie setup to explore ideas of family, honesty, and commitment. I cry as much and as often at Jane the Virgin as I do at Parenthood, and frankly, find the latter show more unrealistic in a lot of ways. The show’s over-the-top soapy emotions provide texture, but it’s Jane the Virgin’s grounded, honest, realistic emotions that provide structure.
The whimsy factor of the show will certainly appeal to fans of Bryan Fuller’s earlier work like Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, or the similarly campy Ugly Betty. And like those (also excellent) shows, there’s a real decency to the characters here. There are a few scoundrels, of course, but even they have a core being — there’s nothing arbitrary about the conflicts or even the villainy. Each part of the story is driven by clear character wants, informed by their backstories, and complicated by their loyalties. Sometimes I wonder why the characters on, say, Scandal are acting the way they are. I don’t wonder that on JTV.
Do you like rom-coms? Oh, the love stories on JTV are just darling. (And the emerging love triangle between Jane, her fiancé, and her baby’s biological father is developing in ways that make it not at all obvious who’s going to end up with whom.) Do you like mysteries? There is police work! Do you crave more stories about women of color? Well, look no further. The show addresses class anxiety, too: Jane and her family are working-class, while Rafael et al. are the one percent — and everyone’s a little suspicious of each others’ motives.
The show also puts a funky, winky spin on its format. The melodramatic narrator makes tons of jokes, and the typed-on-screen chyrons poke fun at the characters and, sometimes, at their own existence. It’s the kind of meta style choice you’d expect from a satire of a telenovela, and Jane shrewdly employs the tactic to let the show have it both ways: It can use those exaggerated moments and goofy characters for dramatic effect, but its self-awareness prevents everything from being too much.
The fifth episode of JTV airs tonight. I’ve seen through episode seven. I am smitten. Not enough good things can be said about Gina Rodriguez’s lead performance, and Justin Baldoni, as Rafael, is the new poster-child (poster-man?) for emotionally vulnerable hunk. What I like the most about the show, though, is its lack of cynicism. I’m a cynical person, and I honestly do think this world is basically a frustration mine, and humans are mostly garbage trolls. Jane and Jane aren’t dopey or naïve, they’re just genuinely motivated to be optimistic. The show’s hopefulness makes me happy.