NB: This was written, drafted and scheduled way before the finale, so if it nullifies any of my points then I will … not take it back. Yeah, it is still the best show on that network, actually, so I stand by it.
Alright, so Jane the Virgin doesn’t subject its cast to spandex suits and ridiculously cool-looking stunts (see: Alex Danvers kicking anyone’s ass in season one of Supergirl). But the title isn’t clickbait. Jane the Virgin is very much a superhero show—perhaps more superhero than the actual superhero shows.
So Supergirl is in a fight? Jane’s been fighting writer’s block, post-partum depression, separation anxiety from her mother and grandmother, and her husband’s death.
So The Flash is…running away from a giant monster? Ask Petra for some advice on how to still boss it after being paralysed by her twin sister(!), is dealing with her own mother attempting to kill her, unsure of how to attach to her twins, rediscovering her sexual orientation, and dealing, on a daily basis, of everyone’s pre-emptive, basic vision of her.
And, darn, Oliver Queen can’t shoot straight? Cry about it to Xiomara and abuela, who between them have struggled to find passion in a career, struggled to find life after her beloved husband passed, and unapologetically mourned the past while moving on.
The premise is ridiculous and, as our wry narrator likes to remind us, something out of a telenova. In her young twenties, Jane Villanueva is artificially inseminated by a drunk-ass doctor, Luisa, an alcoholic who’s fallen off the edge of the cliff.
And that brings us to Rafael and Petra, who were the intended patients—and it also happens that Luisa is Rafael’s sister. With her devoted cop boyfriend Michael, Jane’s story only expands with love triangles and/or love squares, and the story continues to flash between knowingly ridiculous and incredibly moving.
It’s not your average television show…really.
Self-deprecating, overtly dramatic and sometimes completely off its rocker (that Petra/Anezska story, anyone?!), Jane the Virgin is one thing above others: utterly self-aware. If anything, JtV utilises tropes and either sprints off into the distance with it, dissecting the trope into something that is genuinely funny, or before any of the characters can action upon it, our narrator mocks it.
Though it might not seem ‘clever’, it’s probably the cleverest show on The CW right now. JtV knows its place as a comedy but similarly to One Day at a Time on Netflix, it grabs hold of that genre in innovative, often gobsmacking ways. At the same time, there is a ‘grab your tissues’ moment nearly every episode, most memorably when Abuela struggles to talk of her past in Venezuela.
It’s not a clever idea to bank on the fact that the show’s funny, and that’ll draw audiences in regardless. If ‘funny’ is your USP, surely you’d deflate (kind of like how Michael bombed it at the comedy night). But JtV is merely (hella) funny, whilst also boasting a wide range of well-developed characters, genuinely brilliant acting, and probably some of the funniest, sharp transitions on television.
Why it’s the best superhero show on The CW is because Jane herself is the superhero here: an accidental but amazing mother; an aspiring writer who makes mistakes in the most dramatically hilarious-but-awful ways possible; and importantly, she’s independent.
The show makes a big case for her relying on others. She always needs her mother’s advice, or abuela’s, or Michael’s, or Raf’s, but a.) she never compromises who she is and b.) most of the time, she ends up following her own head and heart instead.
So bye-bye to the normal superhero shows on the network, who rely simply on the words ‘superhero’ and ‘DC comics’ to sell. Famous icons like The Flash are always going to rake in the views because The Flash is a pre-established comic book hero. He was even most recently on the big-screen, depicted by Ezra Miller rather than Grant Gustin this time. But JtV had nothing to back it except faith, a united fanbase, genuine award-winning comedy and performances, and its wacky, unique creativity (Jane, Michael and Rafael conversing in a 20’s crime caper get-up was stupidly brilliant).
Characters don’t change for romance; they evolve, but at the core, X remains X and Y remains Y
It’s seen too often in shows how romantic relationships can completely dominate, if not a plot, then a character’s personality. And yes, we cheer for romance and happiness and yes, Xiomara and Rogelio are definitely meant-to-be, but refreshingly, Jane the Virgin doesn’t really capitalise on character change for the romance.
Instead, romance can change—or rather, bring out what they already had inside them. Nothing feels forced and the characters’ choices don’t feel driven by the romantic ‘plot’. They are driven by the characters.
The biggest example is likely Rogelio, Jane’s father, who is hopelessly in love with his ex Xiomara. Before we really get to know Rogelio (who’s also a telenova star), we see his careless obliviousness for all things unrelated to him; we see his delightfully inflated ego. He’s what you would call a diva—to the extreme. But none of that really goes away even when Xiomara re-enters his life, or he re-enters hers.
Rogelio’s capability to love and surprise us with his utter selflessness is shown multiple times, even though he’ll wave it off as nothing and name-drop another celebrity who owes him a favour to make up for it.
This is how you write romance, damn it! If Rogelio had changed and dropped all of his principles after getting back together with Xiomara, he wouldn’t be Rogelio (looking at you, Lexa. Sorry, but it’s the truth). Instead, Rogelio is the same, charming narcissist who makes mistakes and learns from them, and most importantly, is allowed to evolve with bumpy progression rather than completely U-haul a character just to make them romance-worthy.
On Jane the Virgin, a saucy love-square is a B-plot rather than a character makeover
In terms of the ‘love-square’ (you can’t really exclude Petra, can you?), the complicated dynamic between Rafael, Michael, Jane and Petra is less of a plot in itself but moreso background motivation for some of the actions they take. Michael’s over-protectiveness of Jane is brought to an ugly forefront whenever Rafael’s around; Rafael’s pride and arrogance is often displayed especially when provoked by Michael or Petra. Petra is easy to label as an ice-cold bitch, but Yael Grobglas plays her vulnerable side so perfectly that even when she’s artificially inseminating herself in a play to get Rafael back, Petra’s just impossible to dislike.
Part of it is the writing, and part of it is Grobglas’ nuanced acting. And because we’re so privy to seeing nearly everything from Jane’s perspective, we can see right through the supposed villain of the show. Petra is maybe the most divisive character—she flip-flops between sympathetic to ice-cold, but I don’t think I’ve never not rooted for her.
Over the series, Petra’s journey has broken through her walls. Like I said: it’s good to have Jane as our viewpoint (with the help of the omniscient narrator) because we can see right through Petra Solano. Unlike Rafael, who is trying to embrace his new life of non-douchery, Petra clings onto her douche identity because she isn’t sure what would happen if she didn’t.
Yet with Jane’s growing support (though Petra loves to hate it) and her new love interest (Rosario Dawson’s Jane Ramos, who Petra hilariously cannot call ‘Jane’), Petra doesn’t change who she is because of these relationships. It was always there. She might deny her soft spot for Jane, but does a lifelong enemy anonymously donate half of Jane’s rent so she can afford a new place with Michael for no reason?
And that’s what makes Jane the Virgin so good. You could argue superhero shows need supervillains, and you’re right. But it depends on what you take from superhero shows.
For me, I like the humanity and vulnerability shown from our heroes because it makes them relatable. However, the conflict becomes dull and morally snooze-worthy when a supervillain is so irredeemable to the point where he or she simply must be dropped. There’s no feeling for the conflict.
By putting the characters and their inimitable traits first (as all shows should, come on), Jane the Virgin spins you around by trampling all over love tropes. Instead of carefully evading them, JtV uses them mostly for comedic effect but often for adding further tension to an existing conflict (e.g. Michael and Rafael working the ‘Mutter’ case).
Tropes are tropes for a reason, and ninety percent of the time, they are positive. People like seeing it on-screen. Jane the Virgin doesn’t market itself as different or one-of-a-kind, except it truly is. There’s never a background need to please the entire audience. The show’s got a niche and it’s going full ham.
Its relationships are the winning factor of the show
I’ve waffled on about relationships just above—but why are they so important to the show?
The show is Jane the Virgin (though after she loses her virginity, it’s wittily crossed out every time and replaced by another adjective). Our protagonist Jane, so deftly handled by the incredible Gina Rodriguez, is the titular character (sometimes I wish they would’ve gone one step madder and named her Mary) suddenly thrust in a life-changing situation.
However, despite the show’s name and the fact that her boyfriend Michael and her technical baby-daddy Rafael are in love with her, it’s still about Jane. Of course, baby Mateo brings huge conflict to these relationships but it always circles back to Jane.
Most importantly, whether you shipped Michael/Jane or Jane/Rafael or, hell, even Petra/Jane (hey, they had a hug! It’s enough to warrant a heterosexual ship, so…) the real love story is between Jane and the two strongest women in her life: her mother and her grandmother.
Everyone exists for a reason
Even more perfect is the fact that none of the regular cast are here just to exist as X Y or Z’s love interest. Though Rodriguez charms our screens for the majority of the hour, her story is inclusive of the plot details that Jane accidentally stumbles across or gets smacked with. While the ball is often set rolling by Jane, setting the theme of the episode, it just so happens that the season has progressed to a point where the theme is suitable for certain subplots essential to its supporting characters too.
Michael, for example, isn’t just Jane’s boyfriend (then husband). He’s firmly attached to his police job, and when he’s shot and put on desk duty, it is a serious question to ask: what happens when your career’s turned upside down and you don’t know where to turn? He also has an ongoing investigation regarding Rafael’s criminal mastermind of a mother, which then involves Rafael, the hotel, and also Jane, Luisa, and Petra.
Meanwhile, Rafael’s encouragement from Jane spurs memories from the past that helps the investigation whilst also adding emotional depth to the playboy exterior he emanates. Petra’s backstory and telenova-worthy Aneszka twist is so complex that it’s a miracle (well, it was good pacing and acting) it worked.
You might think: well, they’re the ‘big’ characters. But what about Xo, who understandably begins to feel overwhelmed by her status as a grandmother, struggling to find a career she’s passionate about? Abuela, who tearfully confesses she is too attached to Jane, whose past is the influence of Jane’s first novel, and unexpectedly—truly, how often do you see this for women of colour over the age of 25?—signing up for a dating website, finally ‘putting herself out there’ after her husband’s death.
Luisa is found essential to Michael’s investigation, but she’s not just there to provide information on Rose, who she’s also sleeping with; she also has her dramatic ups and downs with her alcoholism. Jane the Virgin could’ve handled it respectfully or condescendingly—the line is thin—but laced with its quirky humour, the show doesn’t shy away from the self-shame and need for support from addicts, even if Luisa is considered a minor or recurring character.
It’s ballsy and it works, especially when we’re expecting television to, you know, be good. Game of Thrones might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone has a role to play in it, whether George R.R. Martin executes it within a novel or you have to wait the entire series to flesh out the larger picture.
Jane the Virgin focuses, rightly, on Jane. But it never detracts from others’ storylines, or the importance of them. Instead, it capitalises on them. And that’s not easy. Game of Thrones can boast that it technically doesn’t have a main character, but rather point-of-view characters. Jane the Virgin offers Jane trials and tribulations every episode, yet maintains a steady, interesting plot for other characters that assist in their personal development, too. Sometimes, it’s incredible when you remember that Jane the Virgin is only a weekly, hour-long episode with a massive cast.
In any case, Jane the Virgin remains an accomplishment of the highest order
Jane the Virgin might be Stilton-levels of cheesy, over-dramatic to put telenovas to shame, and frequently surreal. But it’s that blasé, quirky charm that remains the show’s USP. For a show that has one of the most ridiculous premises I’ve ever seen, with the most ridiculous set of characters ever (Rogelio de la Vega, damn it) it meshes incredibly well into a strong, affable, underrated series.
Shows like Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have passed down the equation of darkness equals good. To explore the human condition and mindset, you need only to binge Breaking Bad and let your mind explode when you finish it and come back to Walter’s speech about chirality. The themes of love, greed, addiction and power are all darkly explored in Breaking Bad, with sparks of clever wit and humour peeping through the shadows. That’s what makes it so good: it’s dark, but it isn’t hopeless.
Yet Jane the Virgin rather unassumingly cruises into importance, too. It’s easy to dismiss as your over-the-top comedy, but that’s the point—and that’s why it’s clever. It’s written pretty much like a telenova anyway. Rather cheekily, it’ll prod fun at The CW channel (Rogelio trashes it as a channel he’s never even heard of when he’s trying to export his telenova to American screens).
Jane the Virgin is funny, believable, heart-warming and its scripts and performances explode with sincerity and integrity. It’s over-the-top (the…whole premise), melodramatic (uh, Rogelio anyone?) and it’ll truth bomb you (when Jane speaks of the difficulties of an author who’s failed on her first attempt, who also happens to be a woman of colour).
No, it isn’t faultless. Yes, sometimes the character or character choices fall flat. But when you access a story where every character could exist on its own without relying or existing for Jane, and still maintain Jane as the centric character, you’ve done something right. It’s a prime example of pacing, story-building, character nourishment, cherished relationships and gorgeous chemistry. It’s what makes the show, even after four seasons, exciting with every chapter—and it bursts the idea that a show needs to compress its format to ten-episode seasons for originality and high-octane drama.
Jane the Virgin quietly passes on that front, displaying dilemma after dilemma. Though we talk of relationships on the show, our relationship with Jane grows, too. She’s a do-gooder; a planner; the definition of ‘type A’. But we see she has some aggressive moments, and she’s annoyingly nosy, and her moral compass is so rigid that often she refuses to let characters diffuse a situation on her own because she’s already stuck her nose in it.
Jane’s progression blossoms before our very eyes, overcoming her personal troubles to love and support Michael, to raise Mateo, to befriend Petra, to snap Rafael out of his playboy ways. She’s still an inadvertent troublemaker, but we stand by her.
The vision within the writers’ room and the complexities of overarching plot-lines are so intricately woven to a point where you know it’s feasible for decisions to bite characters in the ass later on. It usually does. That level of planning and innovation for this form of comedy/drama is admirable, and the show’s reputation as that over-the-top comedy about artificial insemination (not at all) is maybe the only thing holding it back.
Sure, people enjoy it and it’s a good laugh watching it. But unassumingly, rather than preach in front of our faces (pick a superhero CW show, any show), Jane the Virgin offers an amusing, flamboyant and accessible approach to exploring conversations we really should be having.
Quality is subjective, of course, but this certainly is not one you should let fly under the radar (as I did…and then binged heavily). Some of its episodes and storylines have been beyond a telenova’s extremities, but some are genuinely high-quality offerings, and the show boasts probably some of television’s finest moments—if not, then certainly The CW’s.