Jane the Virgin came into my life when I didn’t know I needed it and left a bigger impact than I ever thought it could.
If you haven’t heard of the show and its premise, here it is – a 23-year-old virgin, saving herself for marriage, is accidentally artificially inseminated. Outlandish, right? Well, there’s a lot of outlandish things on the show – long-lost twins, a woman with a pirate’s patch and hook hand and a lesbian drug lord who wears full-skin masks to impersonate others in her crimes. As the show’s “Latin Lover Narrator” would say, “I know! Straight out of a telenovela, right?”
And that’s what it is – a (mostly) English-language telenovela based off the Venezuelan series, Juana la Virgen. Like most soap operas, it’s full of beautiful people like Gina Rodriguez, Justin Baldoni, Jaime Camil and my favorite, Yael Grobglas. But unlike most soaps, it is equal parts clever satire, subtle woke politics and heartwarming (and heartbreaking) as hell! You’ll be charmed, you’ll yell at the TV and sometimes you’ll cry. Your results may vary, I cry more during an episode of Jane the Virgin than This Is Us!
Nobody I knew was talking about the show, but it was on my radar because the pop culture sites I followed praised it. One day, I found season one on Netflix and I binged it all in time for season two to be added. I’ve been able to keep up weekly this season and last because, like Riverdale, Netflix automatically has next-day episodes available in Canada!
Our main players are presented as caricatures at first. Jane (Rodriguez) is a cheerful do-gooder with Type A tendencies, working as a waitress while dreaming of becoming a published writer. Rafael (Baldoni) is a pretty-boy hotel heir. Petra (Grobglas) is Rafael’s stone cold Czech ex-wife who has stake in the hotel. Jane lives with her sexy singer/dancer mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who had Jane at 16 (which is why Jane wants to remain a virgin until marriage), and her abuela, Alba (Ivonne Coll), a deeply religious old-world Venezuelan immigrant who responds to English in Spanish. Finally, the main characters are rounded out by Rogelio de la Vega (Camil, with an expert mix of camp and sincerity), Jane’s biological father who comes back into her life. Rogelio is a handsome, vain and temperamental telenovela star who is fond of name-dropping, Twitter and, of course, making the transition to American TV.
With every episode, we delve past the stereotypes and find new layers – we uncover Jane’s stubbornness, Rafael’s past illness, Petra’s vulnerability and the fact that abuela Alba still grieves for her long-deceased husband. These are just a few developments that I can tell you about without giving much away!
I was lured in by the beautiful cast and the dialogue that was funny, but not trying too hard. I didn’t really relate to any of the characters, but I loved them all from the get-go.
Jane, in particular, has had a bigger impact than I could imagine. I’m not exactly type-A, I don’t want to be a mother, and if one of my grandmothers had given me the “crumbled white flower” nonsense about my virginity, I’d have said “Okay” and gone back to making my Barbies scissor.
But in 2016, as I watched Jane Gloriana Villanueva balance her waitress job, a fiancé, a nosy family, grad school and impending motherhood – while still having time to write—I started to remember how writing used to make me feel. Whenever she felt emotional about writing a passage, I got emotional. Whenever she felt exhilarated, so did I. She wasn’t writing “literary” literature – I don’t really, either! There's writing advice peppered throughout the series. Soon enough, I found myself scrawling some new ideas. By the end of the year I’d signed up for my first writing class. So far, I’ve taken four. And because of my rekindled passion for writing, you're here reading this on my website today.
Jane has gone through some ups and downs with her writing throughout the seasons – I even got writer’s block when she did! And as much as I enjoy the sexy exploits of author Noah Solloway on The Affair and the fashion parade of the breezy book-publishing sitcom, Younger, Jane the Writer is a more relatable character. One who actually has struggles, along with wonderful bursts of creativity. As a writer, determined to make a name for myself, this is my reality. I'm happy to have Jane by my side as I do this.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. I found mine in a show on The CW that most people dismiss without giving a chance. I stopped believing in guilty pleasures long ago and, to me – and to The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum! – Jane the Virgin should be considered Peak TV. Give it a chance, why don’t you? I’m glad I did.