TV Time: The joy of Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin premiered on the CW back in 2014, and ran for five seasons. Back in the day, I faithfully watched season 1, but then only watched about 4 or 5 episodes of season 2 before giving it up.

Why did I quit? I think maybe I just didn’t get it at the time. Or maybe the weekly cadence didn’t quite pull me in enough to be completely hooked.

But now? After finishing my binge of all five seasons, I can say with complete confidence the Jane the Virgin is GLORIOUS.

What makes it so special? I’ll try to explain.

First, the basics: Jane Gloriana Villaneuva is a 23-year-old college student when we first meet her. She works part-time as a waitress at the swanky Marbella hotel in Miami, is studying to become a teacher, and lives with her mother Xiomara and grandmother Alba.

Alba is an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, a devout Catholic, and the moral center of Jane’s life. Xiomara had Jane at age 16 as a single teen mom, and has told Jane all her life that the father was an army soldier passing through with whom she had a brief fling.

One of Jane’s core beliefs was instilled in her by her abuela from a young age — your virginity is like a flower that you must protect. Once it’s gone you can never get it back!

Jane is also very much in love with her boyfriend Michael, a police detective who’s sweet, kind, funny, and head over heels in love with Jane. And who’d really like to have sex with her, except she’s vowed to wait until marriage, despite their hot and heavy make-out sessions.

All is right with Jane’s world until she goes in for a pap smear, and ends up artificially inseminated instead by a distracted doctor who mixes up her patients. What’s a pregnant virgin to do?

From here, things get crazier and crazier. The sperm used to impregnate Jane belongs to Rafael Solano, the incredibly hot owner of the Marbella who froze his sperm sample prior to undergoing chemotherapy several years earlier. His marriage to scheming Petra is on its last legs, and Petra had planned to set insemininated with his only sperm sample as a way to hold onto the money that comes with her marriage.

And so many more twists and turns! The key thing to know about Jane the Virgin is that it’s about how much the Villanueva women love telenovelas, and the telenovela theme is what gives Jane the Virgin its style and approach.

So yes, there are long-lost twins and evil crime lords, amnesia and kidnappings, blackmail and murder, and so much more. There’s also a telenovela within the telenovela, since Jane’s father turns out to be Rogelio de la Vega, the star of the hit telenovela The Passions of Santos.

As the narrator often reminds us: “I know! Straight out of a telenovela!”

And yes, there’s a narrator, and he’s phenomenal. Funny, sarcastic, dramatic, he adds spice and humor to every scene, as well as the little subtitles and texts and emojis that pop up too. It works, trust me.

I think one of the things that didn’t work for me when I first watched the show was the telenovela aspect. I didn’t care about the crime and conspiracies, the police investigations, the crazy drug lord caper…

But with this binge, I was better able to appreciate the beauty of the whole, and how the crazy plot aspects balance so well against the marvelous depiction of daily life for a loving family.

Because that’s what this show is really about, at its core. The relationships between Jane, Xiomara, and Alba are lovely, so full of heart and devotion and real day-to-day experience. Yes, they fight and get fed up, but at the end of the day, these three women are strong and solid, and we can always count on their porch-swing heart-to-hearts to put things right.

A few more favorite things:

Magical realism: This show makes fabulous use of magical realism, from showing Jane’s heart glowing when she’s in love to the swirling flower petals that fill the air during an important kiss. It’s a lovely nod to Latin American literary traditions, and it adds so much.

Jane’s writing career: Jane is an aspiring writer, and we see her progress from tentatively sharing her dream to pursuing graduate school, then working on her first novel, and finally achieving success. It’s hard for movies and TV to show a writer at work and make it interesting, but Jane the Virgin does an amazing job of showing Jane’s struggles and her process.

High-stakes at the hotel: It just cracks me up how the ownership of the Marbella is such an issue throughout the entire show. Someone is always buying or giving or stealing hotel shares, so while Rafael might be the owner one day, he can be out on his ear the next. It’s super silly, and makes me roll my eyes, and is yet one more ridiculous but fun piece of the whole.

Rogelio: Oh, man. There’s nobody like Rogelio. He is incredibly vain, a total name-dropper, and yet also the sweetest man alive. He never fails to remind us that he’s super handsome and a big star with flawless skin, but he’s also vulnerable and loving and loves his family so, so much. He’s also hilarious.

The love triangle: For what it’s worth, I was Team Rafael from the start, and even when that didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped in season 1, I always held out hope. Through their ups and downs, Jane and Rafael managed to form a friendship that saw them through heartbreak and co-parenting challenges, so when they finally (spoiler alert!) make a go of it, it feels real and truly earned. (Sorry, Team Michael fans! I just never really felt it.)

Representation: It’s amazing to see so many talented Latinx actors center stage. And I love that Alba speaks almost exclusively in Spanish throughout the show, and that’s just who she is. Dialogue flows seamlessly from Spanish to English and back again, and it works so well.

Life: Beneath the silliness of so many plot devices, there are real issues that real people face — so many of which rarely get any attention on TV. We see Jane struggling with breast feeding and the feelings of inadequacy that can come with lactation challenges. We see Xiomara’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, presented so incredibly thoughtfully and sensitively — including how a woman’s relationship with her own sexuality might change in the aftermath of chemo and all the changes it brings. We also see Alba’s quest to become a citizen, going from a woman terrified of the police for fear that she’ll be deported, through the process of pursuing a green card and finally becoming a full citizen.

There’s so much more — loss and grief, establishing a family and what it means, Jane and Rafael’s efforts to co-parent in a way that supports their son even when they themselves are at odds, their struggle with son Mateo’s ADHD diagnosis and coming to terms with treatment options — I could go on and on. The beauty of Jane the Virgin is that the melodramatic twists never overshadow the day-to-day realities of people living realistic lives. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but the show does it beautifully.

I know I’ve rambled on, probably more than enough. But really, when a show is this great, I just want to shout about it! Jane the Virgin is a perfect binge for these coronavirus times. It’s full of joy and heart, is never dull, and reminds us that life can be full of magic.

4 thoughts on “TV Time: The joy of Jane the Virgin

  1. Love this review! I really enjoyed the first season, but never found the time to finish the series- this makes me want to give it another go! I agree that it’s really well done and love the narrator as well.

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