Okay, here’s the story so far. Jane, a deeply religious 23-year-old student who has vowed to preserve her virginity until she marries bland detective Michael, is accidentally impregnated with her boss’s sperm. Said boss, Rafael, a handsome former playboy who owns the hotel where Jane works, froze his sperm because he had testicular cancer. His devious wife Petra, who is apparently in trouble with a Cech crime family, goes to get inseminated to stop Rafael from divorcing her so she can get more of his money. Petra and Jane coincidentally share a gynaecologist who is also Rafael’s sister. The doctor is bereft after walking in on her wife in bed with someone else and mistakenly gives Jane the procedure instead of Petra. Still following?
If that all sounds utterly ridiculous, don’t worry; that’s entirely the point. Jane The Virgin (Wednesdays, 9pm, E4) is loosely based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana La Virgen and wears its influences proudly. In many ways the show is a meta-commentary on the genre, paying wry homage with a frenetic wave of storylines that hinge on the requisite insane plot twists, contrived character relations and easily mocked facial reaction shots.
The funny things is, whilst you’d think such an implausible premise would quickly become overwrought, it’s actually fantastically entertaining. This is largely down to the show’s tongue-in-cheek humour, which almost always comes in the form of Anthony Mendez’s deliberately arch narration. Voice-over narration is almost never a good thing in a TV series, but here it works perfectly, Mendez’s sharp contributions countering the show’s more heightened moments by letting us in on the joke whilst also effectively streamlining the complicated narrative.
By itself, this combination of outlandish plotting and knowing humour would make for an entertaining but lightweight watch, but Jane The Virgin is made all the more compelling by the addition of a host of interesting and multi-dimmensional characters. Gina Rodriguez does a great job of making Jane charismatic and relatable, and it’s refreshing to see a major comedy led by a woman who is intelligent, considerate, hardworking and not nearly as naïve as the show’s title would suggest.
Rodriguez is backed up by strong performances from Andrea Navedo and Ivonne Coll, who respectively play Jane’s vivacious mother, Xo, and pious grandmother Alba, in a hugely enjoyable double act. These characters could have been grating stereotypes but the show’s writers smooth over any rough edges by allowing us to spend plenty of time exploring the complicated dynamics that make the Villanuevas feel like a real family.
You might have noticed the core characters of this show are all women, and whilst it’s frustrating that such a thing should still be considered a rarity on TV in 2015, it does give the series the feel of a subverted fairytale. Be it Jane, her mother, her best friend or the scheming Petra (Yael Grobglas), in Jane The Virgin it’s the women who are the heroes and the villains. They aren’t simply damsels waiting helplessly to be rescued, but complex characters with a vital importance to almost every one of the show’s myriad plot points. The men, on the other hand, are the hunky window dressing and tanned romantic leads, which makes for a nice change of pace.
The series isn’t entirely wrinkle free, of course, with the sheer number of plot-lines meaning some subplots are inevitably underserved, such as Jane’s best friend’s doomed romance with Michael’s criminal brother, which introduces supposedly close relationships seemingly out of the blue.
Yet it’s an almost imperceptible flaw in a show that feels perfectly balanced, with a clutch of engaging, down-to-earth characters and a charmingly self-aware sense of humour that makes Jane The Virgin a positively refreshing creation among the current network fare.