The premise of The CW’s new show, “Jane the Virgin,” sounds more like a daytime soap opera than a popular network’s newest dramedy. Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) finds herself accidentally artificially inseminated … that’s when all hell breaks loose.
Due to her mother’s teenage pregnancy and her religious family, Jane promised her grandmother she would remain celibate until marriage. Living with her Hispanic family and working as a waitress at a hotel — all the while studying to be a teacher — Jane is a happy-go-lucky goody two-shoes dating a police detective, Michael Cordero (Brett Dier). Then she goes to the hospital for a regular checkup where her doctor, upset after learning she was cheated on, accidentally impregnates her instead of giving her a pap smear. To further complicate things, the sperm was intended for a high-powered business associate’s gold-digging wife, whose ploy is to stop her husband from divorcing her so she can keep his money while cheating on him with his best friend. As if things weren’t complicated enough, that very same businessman, Rafael Soldano (Justin Baldoni), had a brief fling with Jane years ago, and is now the owner of the hotel where she works. Oh … and he recently recovered from cancer, so the sperm used to inseminate Jane was his last chance at ever having a child. Dizzy? Confused? You’re not alone.
While it may sound like “Jane the Virgin” is nothing more than a far-fetched soap opera disguised by its 9 p.m. time slot, the show has garnered surprisingly high praise — Rotten Tomatoes awarded it a 100 percent and The Daily Beast called it “CW’s Best Show Ever.” Pinpointing the source of its success is difficult, but when it comes to series doused in plot-twists, it all depends on the execution — and here “Jane” does quite well.
Neither solely a comedy nor a drama, “Jane the Virgin” successfully blends the two together. Knowing when to focus on one over the other is a delicate balancing act, yet the show’s writers strike a good equilibrium, keeping viewers both interested and chuckling. Though the humor is slightly subdued and not overly forceful, viewers are sure to find themselves laughing.
The show also incorporates voice-over narration and on-screen text introducing characters, devices rarely successful in most shows. Surprisingly, “Jane the Virgin” uses the techniques sparingly and skillfully, and even better, these choices feels neither overbearing nor random. Additionally, the show sprinkles in bits of Spanish — filtering in from conversations between Jane and her family or telenovelas on TV. This adds an interesting layer to the show while interweaving Jane’s Hispanic heritage throughout the pilot.
Given the show’s title and subject, its biggest risk seems to be making “Jane” all about our main character’s purity and goodness. For many shows with a “virgin” figure, or characters with any trait deemed abnormal by society, the unusual identifying marker becomes his or her only identity, making for a trite, one-dimensional role. Jane, however, is portrayed as more than her level of sexual experience; of course her virginity is explained in the beginning, but it doesn’t become her defining characteristic. Rather, Jane is down to earth and relatable. She feels like a real person — partially due to the writers, but also largely to Gina Rodriguez’s performance.
Rodriguez’s rendering of Jane is so skilled that viewers will find themselves laughing, crying and smiling with her. In a marketplace overflowing with seriously flawed characters like Walter White in “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013), Hannah Horvath in “Girls” (2012-present) and Don Draper in “Mad Men” (2007-present), a genuinely likeable lead feels refreshing. “Jane” proves that, contrary to the recent rash of love-to-hate-them characters, an entertaining show can still have a good person as its lead.
At the end of the day, we watch television for entertainment. It’s the perfect escape largely because it is more interesting than everyday life. By this logic, a show with crazy twists and turns should be optimal. The problem is that so many times these shows — like soap operas — are crippled by random storylines and poor acting, and must rely solely on the drama to keep viewer interest, until they ultimately end up feeling unbelievable.
Luckily, “Jane the Virgin” incorporates the drama with comedy worthy of a soap, while managing to keep the show both believable and wildly entertaining. It’s safe to say that once you lose your “Jane the Virgin” virginity, you’ll keep coming back for more.