From the minute Jane the Virgin’s all pink ads began covering billboards and busses—with star Gina Rodriguez sheepishly clutching a positive home pregnancy test—the message from the CW’s new series was confusing. Was this a show about a modern-day immaculate conception, featuring a young, pregnant Virgin of Miami Beach?
Adapted from the Venezuelan daytime soap Juana La Virgen, the show’s branding hinted at a mash-up of 7th Heaven’s religious tension with a Gossip Girl-worthy sex scandal, but with the sex removed (she’s a virgin) and a Miami Beach setting. It seemed like a calculated attempt at reaching young Latina viewers that had mistakenly aligned itself with the concerns of their ultra-Catholic grandmothers (ie, premarital sex).
But strangely, the show has been greeted positively by critics (and its premiere got decent ratings). After watching the first episode myself, I’m surprised by the show’s ability to rise above dumb pandering—smartly addressing issues of youth sexuality and Latin identity in a way that its ads haven’t.
Still, beat by beat, the show sounds insane. Jane is a control freak who works as a champagne-serving mermaid at a sleek Miami hotel. When not working, she likes to passionately make out with her detective boyfriend of two years. As the title suggests, all they do is make out, thanks to a chastity vow Jane made as a child to her religious grandmother, who lives with Jane and her gorgeous mother Xiomara.
When Jane visits her gynecologist for a routine pap smear (a true indicator of how responsible she is—a Virgin pap smear is so WTF), she’s accidentally inseminated with sperm from Rafael, her former teenage crush, a cancer-surviving playboy who owns the hotel she works at. (And those lebsians who ended up with the biracial baby after a sperm bank’s mistake think they got screwed.)
¡Ay, Dios mío! But there’s more. Jane doesn’t realize this is his last surviving sperm specimen, his only chance at having a child, and the glue that his conniving wife Petra hopes will seal their floundering marriage and boost her future divorce settlement. All the possible stakes have been raised.
So, how can this show be actually good when it sounds so absurd?
Here are the five things that make this show worth it:
1. Gina Rodriguez, who stars as Jane
In just a single episode, Puerto Rican actor Rodriguez develops Jane into a character worth investing time in. Jane’s strength seems to be a reflection of Rodriguez herself, who impressed audiences with her comments about diversity during the summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, explaining why she didn’t pursue a more stereotypical role on ABC’s Devious Maids in order to play Jane. “I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on screen…And it’s like as soon as you follow your dreams, you give other people the allowance to follow theirs,” Rodriguez told the panel.
2. Andrea Navedo, who plays Jane’s mom Xiomara
Xiomara’s only priorities are her daughter Jane and the Mexican pop star Paulina Rubio. That’s reason enough for me to like her. Xiomara, played heartfully by the vivacious Navedo, is a sex-positive songstress who had Jane at 16. She flirts on the bus with Jane at her side, oozes sex appeal with each smirk and strut, and informs Jane about sleeping with her own supposed ex-boyfriend again in case the pregnancy means her daughter really is a “religious Messiah.” Xiomara ensures Jane knows she has choices that she didn’t have (aka an abortion pill on her dresser). Xiomara is her mother’s foil, leaving room for Jane to figure out set of values that honors both of her major female influences.
3. The show’s bad girl Petra, played by Yael Grobglas
No soap opera is complete without a sizzling villain. Grobglas is extra freaky as Petra, Rafael’s wife and the hotel’s resident gold-digging adulterer. We meet Petra as she drops to her knees on a Miami balcony in an effort to “relax” her husband. Next, we see her applying lipstick in her vanity mirror while her gypsy mother reads Tarot cards. Petra’s the best—just the bad girl this refreshingly moral show needs.
4. Miami, the show’s home
Although we didn’t see quite enough of it in the opener, Miami is the hottest city in America and the perfect location for a fun-loving TV show. The hotel Jane works at is the perfect vantage point to soak in all the city’s glamour. The extras are dressed to impress and sounds from Colombian pop-star Juanes (who will make an appearance this season) drift throughout its corridors. It’s like a Love Boat and Melrose Place and Miami Vice thing happening all in one.
5. A CW take on magical-realist, telenovela antics
When it’s all so dumb, you can’t believe it’s smart. But the show’s fantastic premise is actually a fun sandbox for exploring issues of sex and identity, when other higher-brow shows (Girls, Looking, Transparent, etc.) dealing with those same issues tend to fixate on realism – white realism.
This is just a glimpse at the narrative creator Jennnie Snyder Urman and her writing staff offer us in the series’ first 50-ish minutes. The show accomplishes exactly what the CW’s female-targeted, youthful soap operas are supposed—generically in line with my favorites One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl (which aired on the CW, but unlike Jane weren’t produced by the network).
But Jane the Virgin might be the CW’s first non-guilty pleasure. It’s as topical as it is tantalizing—and it’s only just begun.