Television Tuesdays: Jane the Virgin

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Overview

Based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Jane the Virgin is a soapy delight that just wrapped its second season on The CW. The show follows Jane Villanueva, a 21 year old college student from Miami, Florida who goes in to her OB/GYN’s office for a regular pap smear and ends up accidentally artificially inseminated.

I know.

I will never walk into my gyno’s office without thinking of this show, ever again. At first, Jane is panicked and unsure as to whether she wants to pursue this surprise pregnancy – she’s newly engaged to the love of her life, Michael, and from a very devout Catholic family. But after it’s revealed that the father, Rafael, had cancer and this is his only shot at biological children, Jane reconsiders. The first season follows her pregnancy, while the second explores new motherhood.

I never thought I would be interested in a show about a new mom, her baby, and her very close family (Jane lives with her mother and grandmother), yet here I am. It’s a testament to how strong those relationships are, how thoughtfully they are crafted, and how interesting their dynamics can be, that keep me tuning in.

 Relationships

The heart of this show is about relationships in all their varying forms. Jane is clearly at the center, but the show deftly explores each connection that she has (with the exception of her best friend, played by Orange Is The New Black actress, Diane Guerrero).

Jane and her mother Xiomara live with the matriarch of the Villanueva family, Alba. Jane, while at times fanciful, tends to be the reserved, sensible counterweight to her mother, while Alba doles out wisdom and unconditional love (and the occasional hand-upside-the-head). As a show with four generations living in one house, mother-child relationships are of course explored, and I think the play between Jane-Xiomara, Jane-Alba, Xiomara-Alba, offers such a rich puzzle of opinions and concerns. One of the most beautiful things about this show is also the way it explores language between different generations. Alba, an immigrant from Venezuela, exclusively speaks Spanish on the show, and is given English subtitles. Xiomara and Jane occasionally speak Spanish, enough to know that they’re fluent, but Alba always responds in her native language. It’s a wonderful portrait of how immigrant families and non-English speakers communicate that is rare to see on TV.

Jane also grapples with the childhood desire to have a father in her life. And when her father, Rogelio, does become part of her life, it’s more difficult than she ever could have imagined. Initially, Rogelio is unaware of Jane’s existence. Over the course of the show, they’ve become very loving and close, but the learning curve for how to behave with one another was steep. Rogelio bursting into their lives also affects Xiomara as they rekindle the romance from their youths.

Jane is also embroiled in romantic troubles, torn between her fiance, Michael, and her baby-dady, Rafael. Michael struggles to accept that Jane is pregnant with another man’s baby, especially considering the fact that the two of them are nowhere near that step in their relationship. Jane is also drawn toward Rafael, the (hot as hell) father of her baby. And, despite the love triangle, I often find myself wavering between just who I want Jane to end up with.

Telenovela Format

I will be the first to own that I don’t know much about telenovelas at all. Voiceover. Fantasy sequences. So many soap opera twists and reveals. Yet instead of finding those weird moments cloying, I lean into them. The show delivers them with aplomb and a wink to the audience that, yes, they do know how ridiculous they are being. The show uses these telenovela conceits to play with story structure, internal monologues/desires, and to add levity to sometimes very serious moments.

Charm

I will freely admit that I tend to think that babies ruin shows. Not always, of course there are exceptions, but generally, when the baby shows up, I tune out. Going in to Jane the Virgin, you know there’s going to be a baby, sooner rather than later. And when he appears, baby Mateo is just as charming as the rest of the characters. He is a character in his own right, not merely a plot device or vehicle for a punchline or plot contrivance. I think what makes the inclusion of a baby work so well in this show, where it fails in others, is that he’s given that character consideration. He’s built into the premise. And the show follows a family, generations of it, so it’s only logical that the newest member is brought into the fold. Also, there’s something that snakes its way into my cold, dead heart in the way Jane loves her kid.

One of the greatest strengths of the show, I’ve found, is that it leans into its genre. It is not afraid to be hyper-sexual, to lovingly explore fantasy sequences, to play with reality and the expectations of polite society. The show can get weird, but it has fun while doing so, which makes it fun to watch. It doesn’t take its weirdness for granted, but allows the viewer to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the fantasy world in which the show lives.