As a TV critic you’re supposed to be approach every new show with an open mind. It’s a concept I’ve often struggled with. Sometimes on paper it’s clear I’m not the ‘key demographic’. Occasionally though, TV will throw a ‘curve ball’ your way. A show based on a telenovela airing on the CW called Jane the Virgin should’ve passed me by without me noticing. Jane is likeable enough, but the fact that she is mistakenly artificially inseminated should have had me reaching for the remote. For some reason I didn’t, Quite the reverse in fact, as I found myself more and more engaged with it.
The title may cause some to dismiss it instantly, but I found the characters and its clever tongue in cheek way of telling the story surprisingly refreshing. When we meet Jane, she’s young and being told by her Grandmother about the importance of ‘staying pure’. When we meet her again in the present day it’s clear her grandmother’s words have stayed with her. She has a boyfriend but is still a virgin. On a normal visit to the gynecologist Jane is accidentally inseminated. Matters are further complicated when it turns out the sperm comes from her current boss! I know you’re thinking how utterly bonkers this all sounds, but the show, boosted by wonderfully believable performances has a way of making you believe this could all happen.
Based loosely on a Venezuelan telenovela itself, the series incorporates a number of far-fetched dramatic elements which wouldn’t seem out of place in the most heightened of US dramas. The soapy elements of the plot are provided by hotel owner Rafael Solano whose sperm is responsible for Jane’s predicament. To make matters worse, Rafael is the new boss at the hotel Jane works at and the two previously shared a romantic night together at a country club. Rafael’s philandering wife Petra had planned to have herself inseminated with her husband’s sperm partly so she could continue their flagging relationship until the time came for her to collect on her multi-million dollar pre-nuptial agreement. But upon learning of the unusual course of events Petra blackmails Rafeal’s sister, who was the doctor who performed the insemination in the first place, to convince Jane to give the couple her baby.
Perhaps the biggest strength of Jane the Virgin is the central performance of recent Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez. Her real and seemingly effortless performance here makes any audience member want to root for Jane from the word go. How ever OTT the world around her is, Rodriguez manages to keep the show grounded and as near to the real world as it can be. I can’t say honestly why I enjoyed this opening episode so much, but the show exudes a relentless charm, and I felt I knew and cared about the characters in Jane’s immediate family and was immersed enough in the story to stick with it. The US critics have heaped praise on the show from the start, and it’s not hard to see why.
Jane The Virgin Continues Wednesday at 9.00pm on E4