'Jane the Virgin' Instantly Charms

by J.M. Suarez

7 October 2015

Jane the Virgin instantly feels like a breath of fresh air, and as a result, its success is all the more rewarding.
 
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Jane the Virgin: The Complete First Season

(CW)
US DVD: 29 Sep 2015

The CW’s Jane the Virgin is the kind of show that appears unlikely to garner much acclaim, simply because the premise is seemingly so ridiculous. Centered on a young woman, Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), who is accidentally inseminated during a routine doctor’s visit and then has to navigate an increasingly dramatic set of events that her unexpected pregnancy has set into motion, the series is equal parts melodrama, comedy, and romance.

Though the obvious soap opera elements are an integral part of the series, the writing and the cast make all the unbelievable and exaggerated moments work. The show understands how to use the tropes of the genre, yet not be bogged down by them. Instead, they ultimately become part of what makes it so watchable.

Jane is smart, religious, and devoted to her family, and because of her own mother’s teenage pregnancy, Jane has always maintained that she would wait until she was married to lose her virginity. Though she’s surrounded by so many ridiculous circumstances, she retains the core of her character, and in turn, brings the show back down to earth.

Much of the series centers on the love triangle between Jane, Michael (Brett Dier), Jane’s fiancé, and Rafael (Justin Baldoni), the biological father, and it lends itself to the soapy nature of the show perfectly. There are manipulations, forbidden affairs, and disapproving families to contend with, but at the heart of the drama are characters that feel connected to one another in real ways, despite the increasingly over-the-top circumstances.

Similarly, the story of Jane’s reunion with her birth father Rogelio (Jaime Camil), a Spanish soap star, is one that could easily devolve into clichés. Fortunately, Camil makes Rogelio impossible to not root for, even as a vain, often out of touch, larger than life character, he is humanized. Rogelio’s genuine love and affection for the Villanueva family makes all his antics and immaturities feel endearing rather than irritating. Plus, he steals every scene he’s in, in the best way possible.

Despite all the constant drama, the show is grounded in the Villanueva family and their close bond. Three generations of women, Alba (Ivonne Coll), Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and Jane, who’ve relied on one another and served as the main support system for each other, the Villanuevas are a rarity on television. The depiction of a loving, honest, and devoted intergenerational family of women is one that often gets short shrift, if any attention at all, but Jane the Virgin unfailingly keeps that bond at the center of the series.

It’s also important to highlight the fact that the series focuses on a largely Hispanic cast of characters. The show is set in Miami, with a main plot point revolving around Rogelio’s Spanish soap opera, and though Alba speaks English, she primarily communicates in Spanish. The ways in which the series incorporates the use of Spanish, and Hispanic culture, is essential to understanding the characters and the world they inhabit.

In many ways, Jane the Virgin is reminiscent of another series based on a Spanish soap opera, Ugly Betty. They both managed to successfully bridge the high drama of the plot with the genuine emotional lives of their characters, all the while acknowledging and embracing the cultural differences that aren’t often reflected in such real ways. It may seem counterintuitive, but Jane the Virgin represents a slice of Hispanic culture so effectively in part because of how unabashedly it revels in it, clichés and all.

Apart from the Villanueva family, the Solanos, Rafael’s family, bring their own complications to the story, particularly as it’s Rafael’s sister Luisa (Yara Martinez) who mistakenly does the inseminating that gets the entire series going. Her affair with her father’s wife Rose (Bridget Regan) coupled with Rafael’s own marriage troubles with Petra (Yael Grobglas) give the Villanueva women’s romantic entanglements a run for their money. In addition, the progressively more unbelievable criminal activities at work in the Solano hotel are also a major plot point in the series. As more is revealed and more of the characters are drawn in, this arc becomes both hilarious and genuinely shocking.

It would be impossible to discuss Jane the Virgin without discussing Rodriguez. Jane’s circumstances aside, Rodriguez plays her with authenticity and relatability. She, like the show, is endearing and eminently charming. Her Golden Globe win for the role of Jane was unexpected, yet certainly not undeserved, and her performance is at the heart of the series’ success.

In addition to Rodriguez, the series benefits from a wonderful cast. Camil is a standout and his Rogelio is a highlight of the show. He plays up Rogelio’s ego at every opportunity, but it’s his vulnerability in his new role as Jane’s father that makes him more than a caricature, and Camil always finds the balance. Another highlight is Anthony Mendez who does all the narration as the Latin Lover. He is always entertaining in distilling the increasingly confusing plot points to perfectly concise and very funny quips. The narration is another integral part of the series, as it sets the tone and never takes itself too seriously. 

Jane the Virgin is in many ways an unconventional comedy/drama that plays to the extremes of both ends, yet never feels disingenuous. The appeal of the series is the balance it strikes in presenting these extremes. The writing is consistently smart and quick-witted, while the cast is uniformly excellent with a lead that imbues the series with real feeling. Jane the Virgin is the sort of unlikely success that instantly feels like a breath of fresh air, and as a result, its success is all the more rewarding.

The DVD release contains two features, Jane the Virgin: Immaculate Creation and Getting to Know the Cast of Jane the Virgin, as well as several unaired scenes and a gag reel. Jane the Virgin: The Immaculate Creation is especially informative and offers some great background into the making of the series.

Jane the Virgin: The Complete First Season

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