When the CW announced their fall line-up in May, I thought Jane the Virgin sounded and looked terrible. I had absolutely no intention of watching until reviews started coming in. While not the definitive word on what I will like, critics whose opinions I have historically agreed with started raving about how good this show was. That got me watching the pilot last week. Less than halfway through the pilot, I was hooked and by the time the episode ended, I was ready to fast-forward a week and watch the next episode immediately. It is unexpectedly one of my favorite new shows of the year and one that should really have a larger audience than it does, especially now that it has been picked up a full season. So I’ve put together a list of reasons why this show is worth a look in the hopes that it will inspire more people to check it out.
One of the best things going for this show is the gem it found in its lead actress, Gina Rodriguez. As Jane, she exudes this warm energy that draws you to the character and backs that energy up with some grit and determination. Jane is strong and smart and proud of who she is. Off-screen, Rodriguez shows the same level of intelligence and understanding of what a powerful role this is. Until more shows embrace diversity in their lead roles, those lead actresses (and actors) of color will have to answer questions about their race and how it has affected the roles they have been offered and ultimately chosen and Rodriguez has handled all of those questions beautifully. She understands that this role will give young Latina women in the future a chance to see themselves on TV and what that means for them and she relishes that opportunity. She’s unafraid to stand up for herself and take roles that are meaningful to her, even if it means a lower-profile career. She refuses to simply play a stereotype and I think that is something to be commended.
The other biggest selling point for me about this show is the relationship shown between Jane and her mother Xiomara. I love stories with strong parent-child relationships and this is no exception. Xiomara had Jane young and decided to keep her, against her mother’s recommendation. She’s being struggling to make it as a professional singer, all the while keeping the identity of Jane’s father a secret from her and also from her mother. She’s thought to be a bit of a mess, with rotating boyfriends and a mostly unsuccessful career, but one thing can’t be doubted and that is her love for her daughter. Like my other favorite mother-daughter duo (Lorelai and Rory Gilmore), Jane is the responsible one in the family. She’s seen what her mother has gone through and she’s tried so hard to do everything right to avoid her life. Not because she’s ungrateful to Xiomara for all she’s done but because she wants to take a different path. In a truly spectacular scene this week, Jane breaks down to her mother as she realizes that this baby is going to change her life, whether she wants it to or not. She’s scared and unsure and Xiomara comforts her and reminds her of her strength. She reminds Jane that she gets to be selfish now because this baby is affecting her the most so she gets to make decisions for herself not because someone else wants them. It was a beautifully touching scene and a look at what is clearly a great relationship. Xiomara might show her love a little unusually at times, but she always has Jane’s feelings and happiness in mind.
In addition to the fantastic lead character and actress and a touching mother-daughter relationship, this show just feels different. It certainly looks different – the majority of the lead characters are Latino/a. It sounds different too – Jane’s grandmother primarily speaks Spanish and is subtitled. Perhaps what feels most different about it is that those aren’t things it overly draws attention to. Much like The Fosters, Jane the Virgin is telling a story about people who aren’t often the focus of TV shows. It’s not filled with stereotypes but it’s not actively trying to debunk the stereotypes either. It’s simply allowing these characters to be who they are as (mostly) fully developed characters.
Finally, if you love slightly quirky show structures, this is the show for you. It’s told like a story, complete with narrator. I seem to like the use of narrators and voiceovers more than a lot of people, but even considering my apparent bias, this one is particularly good. When done correctly, telling us plot details or character background can be very effective, especially when they don’t correctly concern the main character. They become entertaining when the narrator adds his own personal opinions. The comment that he didn’t really care that Michael was not a virgin cracked me up. I also like the use of the captions on screen to relay information about who characters are in relation to each other. It serves its purpose of making things seem more dramatic, especially when they are displayed then corrected, and its also just something that amuses me. It lampshades some common telenovela tropes (and I’m sure I’ve missed some of the more subtle references) and it has fun with the genre from which it came while never ridiculing it.
If you like the mother-daughter relationship in Gilmore Girls, enjoy the focus on a different sort of family in The Fosters, appreciate diversity in your TV shows, or loved the playful story-telling style of Pushing Daisies, I highly urge you to give this show a chance. Even if you find the premise ridiculous, come into it with an open mind and just let yourself be entertained.