GINA Rodriguez and Justin Baldoni are the stars of the hit new show
“Jane the Virgin.” Rodriguez is Jane Gloriana Villanueva, a hardworking
young woman who is accidentally impregnated during a
routine checkup that had gone awry. Baldoni is Rafael, a reformed
playboy who becomes Jane’s baby daddy.
PHOTO FROM THE “JANE THE VIRGIN” FACEBOOK PAGE
A cannibal assisting the FBI to catch artistic serial killers, a time-traveling alien capable of self-regeneration, warring clans in a world with ice giants, three-eyed ravens and dragons—you’d think we’ve had our fill of crazy story lines in television shows.
Then comes a TV series whose premise is so outrageous, so insanely outlandish, we think its creators have been high, drunk or both.
“Jane the Virgin” is about Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a hardworking, intelligent young woman whose life, as the show’s narrator says, “becomes the stuff of telenovelas” after a disastrous visit to the OB-GYN.
During a supposedly routine checkup, Jane is accidentally inseminated by a distracted doctor and winds up pregnant. To make matters worse, Jane, at 23, is still a virgin and is about be engaged to her longtime boyfriend.
The “sample” given to Jane was for the wife of Jane’s former crush—a reformed playboy turned hotelier, who is also the doctor’s brother and has just gotten back normalcy in his life after surviving cancer.
The wife wants to get pregnant as a desperate attempt to “save” her marriage. Ironic, since she has been slowly destroying her own matrimonial bliss by cheating on her husband with his best friend, who is being investigated by the police, with Jane’s cop boyfriend as the lead detective.
To further complicate the situation, the truth about Jane’s own conception—she was born out of wedlock—is starting to come to light.
And did we mention all of this (and more) happens in just the first episode? Absurdity abounds.
It’s not only a ridiculous plot for a TV show, but a horrifying situation if it happened in real life. But, much to our surprise, “Jane the Virgin” actually works. It is charming, funny, sincere and surprisingly very modern—ludicrous, soapy plot and all.
Rodriguez (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), as the steadfastly honest Jane, is obviously the show’s breakout star. Her acting is heartfelt and believable, molding Jane into a relatable, very human protagonist you can’t help but root for.
It’s as if Rodriguez herself has imbibed Jane’s values and principles, making her character’s choices and actions realistic and legitimate.
She is also quite an adept comedian, able to balance the series’ humorous turns with its serious and sentimental (but not at all cloying) scenes.
This fully fleshed-out characterization is fortunately not limited to Jane. Even supporting characters—like Alba (Ivonne Coll, “Glee”), Jane’s devout, Spanish-speaking abuela; Xiomara (Andrea Navedo, “Law & Order”), Jane’s brazen, vivacious mother; and Petra (Yael Grobglas, “Reign”), the show’s foremost baddie and the wife of Jane’s baby daddy—are given ample time and opportunity to become well-rounded individuals.
The men are not too shabby, either. There’s Michael (Brett Dier, “Ravenswood”), Jane’s boyfriend of two years who loves her so much he will consider accepting a child who isn’t his. And Rafael (Justin Baldoni, “Heroes”), the reformed playboy who has forged a special connection with, and attraction to, Jane. Plus, Rogelio (Jaime Camil, “Devious Maids”), a telenovela star who turns out to be Jane’s absentee biological dad.
But the secret weapon of the show is definitely the all-knowing narrator (Anthony Mendez), credited as “Latin Lover Narrator,” who helps the audience navigate the increasingly tangled plot of “Jane the Virgin.” And what a brilliant (and welcome!) addition he is!
The writers make full use of the witty, slightly sarcastic narrator by making him an essential part of the story. Not only does he recount previous events at the start of each episode, Latin Lover Narrator also provides history and context—sometimes in the form of cheeky, hilarious, on-point asides—in the show.
Another plus point in “Jane the Virgin” is its refusal to fall back on cultural and gender stereotypes. Though the show has fully embraced its soap opera roots (it’s adapted from “Juana la Virgen,” a Venezuelan telenovela), “Jane the Virgin” has taken that telenovela humor and drama and created a vibrant, beautiful mess of a world full of complex, dynamic characters who are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
It is also refreshing to watch a show about an overwhelmingly good person who tries to do the right and honest thing despite the pain it may entail. Especially since current TV fare consists mainly of antiheroes who show the dark side of humanity; catty, vapid women who do nothing but fight over emotionally unavailable men; and shallow, rich people who are famous for being famous.
“Jane the Virgin” is also a cut above other TV shows with its modern, yet respectful, approach on issues like chastity, illegitimacy, single motherhood, the LGBT community and gay marriage, the US’ rich immigrant culture and religion.
It doesn’t proselytize either. Viewers need not worry about “sermon-y” scenes that try so hard to get their point across (we’re looking at you, “Glee”).
The show’s take on issues is always in the context of its characters and their circumstances. The light-hearted humor doesn’t hurt, too.
Given all that, it’s no surprise that this series has been touted as one of the best debut TV shows of 2014. Now, when we said we’ve been wondering whether the creators of “Jane the Virgin” are on something, well, we’ll gladly try whatever they’re having!