Jane the Virgin is all the talk these days. You know, that TV show on the CW you probably never heard of until Gina Rodriguez won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series last week. Despite the seemingly goofy title, Jane the Virgin is a formidable comedy gem in tween-sitcom clothing. It's one of those rare shows that manages to be as ridiculous and fun as it is grounded.
This is a show that surprised critics from the get-go. It begins with a soap opera premise: During a routine visit to her gynecologist, a nurse enters the wrong room, Jane is mistakenly artificially inseminated, and becomes pregnant. The father of the child just so happens to be her hot young boss—who is also a mysterious heartthrob she kissed years ago. Oh, and the gyno who inseminated Jane happens to be that man's sister.
Numerous twists and turns elevate the show from typical soap opera to true telenovela—the passionate tango of television that makes Days of Our Lives look like a waltz. It's got machismo. It's got heartache. It's got intense loyalties on one extreme and earth-shattering betrayals on the other. The Latin soap is, in a word, spicy (and I'm not talking about the food).
But what makes Jane the Virgin so enjoyable is that it knows this—and laughs at itself. Jane's long-lost father happens, for example, to be a famous telenovela star. Before we discover this though, he's already coming to life in the TV advertisements in the bus, giving her snippets of life advice and encouraging winks as she commutes to work. The show is self-aware and not-so-subtle. And the results are hilarious.
That's where the multicultural charm comes in. Jane is every bit the American girl next door, but, co-raised in a home with her Spanish-speaking abuela, she's also very much in touch with her Latino roots. Born of a teen mom with an unplanned pregnancy, Jane grew up in a close-knit family with strong customs and religious traditions. Her grandma's Spanish lines are woven into the script with seamless subtitles, keeping viewers a pace with the natural conversational flow of a bilingual home. The Virgin Mary has more than one cameo. And, of course, the telenovelas are always on.
The humor is truly a boon to a storyline that could have just as easily gone angsty. In the first episode, the unmarried 23-year-old Jane learns she is pregnant, despite her religious beliefs and life choices aimed at preventing this (hence the show's title). But she manages to smile throughout, keeping up her spirits and the spirits of those around her, with kindness and grace. Yes, she’s also quite frustrated and stressed, naturally. But as the all-knowing narrator gently reminds us, in the bigger picture there are many reasons for her to keep cool—if not laugh at the situation.
This is also where actress Gina Rodriguez shines. It's hard to think of another life experience with the potential to cause as wide a range of emotions as pregnancy—and Rodriguez nails every facet. Whether crying, laughing, bumbling, or deadpan, she sells Jane's story in a way that few others could match.
Perhaps most striking, the story provides a rare reminder that you can in fact be a beautiful young woman today and still be a virgin. And men can respect that, too. At the start of the show, we meet Jane in a happy relationship that's based on friendship, aimed toward marriage, and (not for lack of chemistry) sexless. But that hadn't stunted their relationship in the slightest. Jane shows that what matters most in a relationship is the shared respect for her values and boundaries and an appreciation for her as a whole person beyond just her body. Hollywood usually saves a nerdy caricature for characters like this, but Jane the Virgin rises above shallow stereotypes. Jane has decided to not rush into sex in her relationships, but she is no less savvy or confident. Talk about empowering!