We root for anti-heroes these days; the ones who sink to moral depravity to survive, such as the Cersei Lannisters and Walter Whites of the world. There’s nothing wrong with that; their moral ambiguity resonates in a world that is becoming increasingly complex. But in the generally bleak television landscape, the delightful and heart-warming Jane the Virgin stands out even more for its virtuous protagonist, who is trying to do the right things for herself and the people around her, despite the craziness that surrounds her.
The show’s premise makes it appear silly, offering only cheap laughs and ridiculous plot twists: Jane (Gina Rodriguez), a kind and responsible young woman, visits the gynaecologist for a routine check-up when her frazzled doctor accidentally artificially inseminates her, setting in motion a series of events that will change her life forever. In lesser hands, the show would devolve into melodrama, but from the very first episode, Jane the Virgin grounds its outlandish plot with the down-to-earth Jane, her concerns and struggles and her wonderfully depicted relationship with her single mother (who had Jane when she was a teenager) and her grandmother. There’s also Jane’s long-time boyfriend Michael, who is a cop, and Raphael, a hunky, rich guy she used to have a crush on, who is the father of the baby. The inevitable love triangle is carefully and sensitively depicted, with both relationships given enough room to develop and deepen. To complicate matters further, there is Rogelio, Jane’s long-lost father who comes back into the picture and happens to be a big telenovela star (a TV genre which is the Spanish equivalent of Indian soap operas), an unlikely combination of vain and adorable.
The show is fast-paced. It goes through nearly five seasons’ worth of plot in its first season, but never falters under the weight of all the action. The wackier plot arcs (a drug lord, multiple murders and conniving ex-wives) are always balanced by Jane’s realistic concerns (fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer, strengthening her romantic and family relationships and dealing with concerns of motherhood) and the show smartly allows plenty of room for character development and relationship growth. All the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional and the actors’ performances breathe life into them, especially Rodriguez’s, who has already won a Golden Globe for her performance.
The show is also wickedly smart. One of its best aspects is the narrator, officially called the “Latin lover narrator”. Voice-over narrations don’t usually work, but here it is used perfectly, as the narrator not only keeps us updated on the rapidly evolving plots but also provides witty commentary — it’s like watching the show with your funny friend who reminds you of the plot points and keeps you entertained with snappy zingers throughout. Additionally, the connection to the crazy world of telenovelas allows the show to spoof the conventions of the genre. It also employs tongue-in-cheek on-screen text, complementing the narrator’s ability to revel in and poke fun at what’s happening on the screen.
With its first season having concluded only a few weeks ago, Jane the Virgin has proved that it can deftly balance the deadpan absurdity and the intimate and personal drama with a consistently playful but self-assured tone. Even when dealing with the serious issues of death, murder, immigration and the trials of being a single mother, the show retains its humour and positivity, making it the happiest show on television at the moment.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 7th, 2015.