I will talk to anyone who will listen about The CW’s new show Jane the Virgin. So I was thrilled to see it get nominated for a Golden Globe yesterday. The Golden Globes are kind-of an also-ran of awards shows when it comes to the big guns — it’s not going to make a huge difference for, say, Game of Thrones — but they can be a boon to a little show that not many people have heard of. It’s telling that when I saw the phrase “Jane the Virgin” trending on Twitter yesterday, my heart sank; I thought it had been cancelled. (It had already gotten a full-season order, at least, but I didn’t know that at the time.) Instead, it turned out to be trending as a surprise nominee and because many Twitter users’ response was, “What the hell is Jane the Virgin?”
So glad you asked, Twitter. Jane has gotten rapturous reviews, but for whatever reason hasn’t quite caught on at a mass level yet. Probably because it doesn’t occur to most grown adults to watch The CW, especially in such an oversaturated market for high-quality programming. Add a very basic statement of the premise — “young woman who is a virgin gets pregnant when her doctor accidentally inseminates her instead of giving her a pap smear” — and you’re not exactly packing in the crowds. This is no How to Get Away With Murder, with a killer title, spectacular and known star (Viola Davis), and spectacular pedigree (produced by Shonda Rhimes). This is a show starring an unknown actress with an absurd plotline. And it’s on The CW, which didn’t get nominations even for critical favorites like Gilmore Girls.
It also happens to be a magical, star-making vehicle for Gina Rodriguez, who’s also nominated. Jane is an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela, and it’s Americanized in particularly clever ways, unlike Ugly Betty‘s more straightforward translation. Jane has one of the greatest voiceover narrators of all time, the unseen Anthony Mendez playing Kristen Bell in Gossip Girl here. He gives the set-up a winking tone that acknowledges the absurdities and allows us to go with them. In an extraordinary move, particularly for a dramedy, Jane’s immigrant grandmother speaks only in Spanish, with subtitles. The plots are twisty and silly and utterly engaging, with any given episode dabbling in hostage-taking, extortion, murder, sting operations, prostitutes hired to drug and seduce hotel magnates, and the occasional lesbian affair between a doctor and her stepmother.
Despite these crazy telenovela flourishes, the show is sweet and grounded, thanks in large part to Jane. Rodriguez has one of those faces you want to watch constantly, and she doesn’t play dumb or naive just because she’s a virgin in her early 20s. It’s a hard sell, but she nails it without breaking a sweat. I’m also crazy about the character of Rogelio, Jane’s once-absentee father and telenovela star, who’s charmingly clueless about how to be a normal person. (When Jane explains that she’s having trouble with her young, twin half-sisters because he bought Jane a car, he solves the problem not by having a talk with the girls, but by buying the teenagers identical cars.) He’s an egomaniac with a huge heart, not something often seen or easily played. Then there’s Justin Baldoni as the father of Jane’s accidental baby (it was his sperm in the inseminator), a hotel magnate whom Jane once coincidentally kissed. They’re now testing the waters of romance, and their chemistry is off the charts, in large part because Baldoni is pure sex — I was so excited to see him in this show, as I have fond memories of drooling over him when he was on Everwood. He, too, lends a sweetness to a character who still maintains some edge; I believe he was a playboy, but I also believe he loves Jane. Jane the Virgin is, in short, the perfect antidote to the era of dark, serious, antihero-driven dramas that are heavy with their own importance.
I hope the Golden Globe nominations encourage more people to check out Jane the Virgin over the largely programming-free holiday break. It deserves all the love it can get.
Here’s the trailer for the show to whet your appetite: