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‘Jane the Virgin’ trumps expectations

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Photo via imdb.com

Photo via imdb.com

If you’ve never seen “Jane the Virgin,” a new fall show airing on the CW, and you’re wary based on its name, you might want to keep reading. In its first seven episodes, “Jane the Virgin,” with its name and (loosely based) plot borrowed from the original Venezuelan telenovela “Juana la Virgen,” defies not only the expectations resulting from its name, but ones of genre, of network affiliation, and, perhaps most importantly, of character.

That’s not to say “Jane the Virgin” doesn’t play into common tropes, especially ones of the soap opera genre. It would be difficult to argue that when the plot revolves around Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a 23-year-old teaching student, who is both a virgin and pregnant after being accidentally artificially inseminated.

Sound a little crazy? Well, that’s just the beginning. The show employs plot twist after plot twist, some reasonable (for TV), like the fact that Jane becomes pregnant by a man she’d met 5 years ago and one who is not her current boyfriend (because, of course, that would be too easy), and some fairly ridiculous. But the balance is just right between the over-the-top soap opera moment, and the more grounded comedic and dramatic moments.

The show never strays too far away from its heart: Jane and her relationship with her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), and grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll). This is what keeps the show grounded in the midst of plot lines surrounding murder investigations, blackmail, scheming wives, previously unknown fathers returning out of the blue and mysterious Czech crime family connections.

Rodriguez’s performance as Jane is engaging and one of the primary reasons for the show’s unexpected charm. While the name of the show could be (and has been) misconstrued as an undue focus on an unnecessary attribute of Jane’s life, it is the writing and Rodriguez’s performance that bring Jane fully-formed to the audience. Her virginity is only one aspect of her character and the focus on it is respectful and explained by Jane’s loyalty to her grandmother, who is devoutly religious. There is no point where Jane’s boyfriend, Michael (Brett Dier) pushes her to have sex and every potential sexual encounter between the two is initiated by Jane.

The show does a great job of showing Jane as a well-rounded woman, with career goals and complex interpersonal relationships. Her decision not to have sex is simply something she has decided not to do yet. The show’s handling of this particular aspect of Jane’s character felt very honest and true to character, and also refreshing in a media climate that doesn’t usually give as much credence to certain aspects of female sexuality. In an ideal world, we would have as much understanding and acceptance given to everyone, not just women, who are virgins, whatever their age, as to people who aren’t. And with Jane’s portrayal, the show is stepping in the right direction.

For most freshman shows closing in on the mid-season finale, this is the time when a show’s true colors start to shine, for better or for worse. Things like preferred tone, pacing, character development and plot tropes start to shift into focus. Even though it airs on the CW, a network notorious for catering to a younger demographic, “Jane the Virgin” manages to create a charismatic and complex story about family while still holding onto elements typical of CW shows. And even more so, the elements the show maintains from its telenovela roots, from its unnamed third person narrator to its seamless integration of Spanish, is what gives the show such a unique, authentic atmosphere.

Despite its slightly unbelievable premise and somewhat ridiculous plot twists, “Jane the Virgin” continues to succeed in melding elements of humor, suspense, and heart, making what could be seen as an unrelatable show surprisingly universal. On the surface, the show seems like another coming-of-age story wrapped up in the trappings of a soap opera, but it’s in the details that the show comes to life; Jane’s endearingly awkward interactions with her newly-found father, the genuine connection Jane has with her baby-daddy, Rafael (Justin Baldoni), and her consistent love and loyalty for her mother and grandmother. No show can be defined solely by its name, especially “Jane the Virgin.”

“Jane the Virgin” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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