Is there any new show this season with a premise more ridiculous than that of The CW’s Jane the Virgin? Twenty-year-old Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is studying to be a teacher, hopelessly in love with her handsome and lovely boyfriend Michael (Brett Dier), and living with her supportive mother Xo (Andrea Navedo) and grandmother Alba (Ivonne Coll). Everything in her life seems to be in order until there is a mix-up at her gynecologist’s office and a routine pap smear results in Jane being accidentally artificially inseminated — with her former crush Rafael’s (Justin Baldoni) specimen.
If it sounds like a telenovela, that’s because it’s based on the Venezuelan soap opera Juana la Virgen. Despite this questionable premise, Jane the Virgin is surprisingly good, managing to wring a worthy and complex story out of such a laughable and desperate hook.
There is no desperation in Jane the Virgin. It follows the general format of telenovelas, sure, and it’s full of twists, revelations, dreamy sequences, and an all-knowing voice-over narration. But the writers navigate these soapy waters with a necessary confidence that brings a gravitas to Jane’s absurd story while also employing a broad comedy approach (especially within the visuals and narration) that helps prevent it from becoming too heavy. The performances, particularly from Gina Rodriguez, are some of the best you’re going to find on television this season. It’s this charm and chemistry between the cast that stands out above everything, drawing you into their family and letting you spend the night.
A show like Jane the Virgin could go wrong in so many ways, but as of the pilot, it’s clear that everyone knows what they’re doing. The events that lead up to Jane’s virginal pregnancy aren’t too farfetched (which means this has now jumped to the top of my list of fears), and everyone is aware of the implications. The show doesn’t shy away from the abortion conversation — Jane’s doctor gives her pills — nor does it ignore the heavy religious element that is a major part of Jane’s family’s culture. It’s a decision that Jane has to make on her own, but it’s also a decision for which she seeks out guidance: from her family, her boyfriend, and the accidental father of her child.
Though Jane the Virgin is a proud telenovela, it doesn’t parody the genre but instead finds liveliness within it. The pilot goes further and further into the dramatics — Rafael is a cancer survivor and married to an evil, scheming woman, Jane’s mother has been keeping a secret about the identity of Jane’s biological father, and even the doctor has some heavy stuff going on — but it treats each plot with considerable weight, refusing to fall into the trap of becoming too cheesy. The same could be said of the family, who are overwhelmingly loving and supportive to each other but never in a way that will make you roll your eyes.
There is a self-assurance within both Jane as a character and Jane the Virgin‘s pilot episode. It’s a bit of everything — comedy, drama, and soap opera — and that eclecticism makes it both funny and sentimental, more reminiscent of The WB than of The CW. It quickly rises above its logline and establishes itself within the first few minutes, making it clear that this is a show to watch. After one episode, Jane the Virgin has emerged as one of the most surprising and fully formed debuts of the TV season.