Stay Tuned: ‘Jane the Virgin’ is a delight
When we first meet Jane Gloria Villanueva, she is a 10-year-old girl holding a perfect white flower in the palm of her hand.
Her grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), tells her to crush it and then try to make it look new again. Jane realizes that she can’t. Her grandmother replies: “You can never go back. And that’s what happens when you lose your virginity. You can never go back. Never forget that, Jane.”
Jane doesn’t forget, and so begins her careful, chaste life. Then one day, 13 years later, 23-year-old Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is inseminated by her distracted doctor and becomes pregnant. It’s a conception that belongs in the telenovelas Jane and her family love to watch, but this show is much more than a soap opera. It’s a charming and realistic look at what happens when life derails your plans.
Jane’s plan for her life is that she and boyfriend Michael (Brett Dier), a detective, will get married once she has earned her teaching degree and they are stable in their careers. It’s a real-world scenario a lot of couples will relate to, and it makes Jane thoughtful and sensible. Her decision to not have sex is treated in a similar way. While it has a religious foundation, it’s also based on professional goals and honest realizations.
Jane is a determined virgin because she doesn’t want to repeat her mother Xiomara’s (Andrea Navedo) history. Pregnant at 16, Xiomara lies about the father’s identity because she doesn’t think he’ll be a good partner and chooses to raise Jane without him. Jane’s carefully constructed path toward career and marriage is shaped by the respect she has for her grandmother, as well as her faith, but also by a deeper understanding that allows her to admit hard truths.
She doesn’t doubt her mother’s love, but she also knows that having her at 16 changed Xiomara’s life in ways she probably would not have chosen. All of this adds up to a character who faces a ridiculous, life-altering situation with an outlook that is authentically complicated and immediately likeable. By the time she makes her decision at the end of the pilot about the baby and her relationship with Michael, you will already be cheering for her.
This is not to say “Jane the Virgin” doesn’t find the fun in a show about a woman who becomes pregnant without ever having sex. A voice of God narrator guides us through the action with a few heroes and villains along for the ride. Jane’s accidental baby daddy is her boss. His wife is a manipulative schemer. His sister is the doctor that kicked the whole thing off.
But what’s great about the series is that it maintains the right balance between Jane’s struggle to redefine her values and plans and secondary story lines that don’t take themselves too seriously. Jane’s life might have become a telenovela but her reaction to it is very much grounded in the real world.
“Jane the Virgin” is on Mondays at 9 p.m. EDT on the CW.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.