In case you haven’t gleaned from my previous posts, the CW is my favorite television network (and possibly the only one I regularly watch). True, I am probably a few years removed from its target demographic, but my love for its predecessor the WB, and the shows I watched at my most impressionable age — Buffy, Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls — endures. I’ve gotten older and the hair and makeup has gotten more polished, but the CW still serves up a consistently solid roster of shows that can be popcorn-fluffy yet poignant, completely far-fetched (two centenarian vampire brothers feuding over a high school girl) and surprisingly relatable (a high school girl struggles to understand what her path in life should be after a tragedy).
Lately a show that’s impressed me in this regard is Jane the Virgin, the telenovela adaptation that debuted in 2014 and is now in its second season. The show’s premise is admittedly, and proudly, wacko — a 23-year-old virgin is accidentally artificially inseminated with the sperm of a multimillionaire hottie hotel magnate/cancer patient, then decides to keep and raise the baby — but in some ways, it’s one of the more realistic shows on TV. Few shows bother to even nod in the direction of “blue-collar” lifestyles anymore, especially live-action shows, preferring instead to give their characters massive apartments and vaguely defined but apparently extremely high-paying jobs. Jane isn’t immune to this problem — its title character does have a TV star father and a filthy rich baby daddy, plus an apparently endless wardrobe of adorable day dresses and wedges — but its characters do worry about money, and the trio of women at its center live in a one-bathroom house that Alba, the matriarch, has been in for many years.
Also realistic (or at least more so than most series) is how the show deals with parenthood. In this show, pregnancy is not just fodder for either complete, unreserved joy or juicy scandal (though it is both of those at various times); it’s also rightly presented as a massive, life-altering event that carries with it huge implications for both present and future. Jane has to navigate all the ways her “life plan” is derailed by a pregnancy out of her control; Xiomara, her mother, a grandmother at 39, decides firmly that after raising a child to adulthood she’s ready, finally, to focus on herself. Neither woman is villainized or lionized; they’re two sides of the same coin, examples of the choices and trade-offs that all women have to weigh. Plus, there’s the messy, stinky, frustrating reality of parenthood itself: Jane the Virgin may have some of the shiniest hair on TV, but its characters change their fair share of diapers and talk about the physical reality of motherhood (leaking milk, peeing yourself) in ways that are uncommon for a primetime show.
Similarly, it’s a peek at a family dynamic you don’t see much of on TV. Families typically mean young children; shows centered on twenty- and thirtysomethings generally all revolve around groups of friends, with parents showing up for the occasional holiday episode or guest appearance. Jane the Virgin, on the other hand, is all about family — the one you’re born into and the one you decide, at some point, to create for yourself. And the Jane family is strongly, beautifully women-centered. Jane still lives with her mother and grandmother, and while they all usually get along, occasionally long-running tensions about choices and lifestyles boil over. Three generations and two countries of cultural differences are represented, and they form the base of all the women’s conflicts even as their deep love for one another cements their bond. Their polar opposite is Rafael, who feels his family has always been deficient; his love of Jane stems largely from his view of her as the one who can give him the picture-perfect nuclear family he feels he was denied. Women run the show on Jane the Virgin — literally (it has a woman showrunner) and within the various character permutations. Even Petra and her mother, who have been pseudo-villains for most of the show, have a dynamic that, while twisted, is also rooted in the kind of deep familiarity that only family members can share.
What’s interesting about all this is that Jane the Virgin otherwise operates in an extremely heightened world. The colors of the Miami scenery pop off the screen, the plot lines often detour into magical realism, and there’s even an omniscient (or nearly so) narrator who chats directly with the audience. On a lesser show this contrast could cause tonal whiplash, but Jane the Virgin somehow manages to balance its continuous telenovela hijinks and its more grounded reality while also occasionally having the characters comment on the wackiness of it all, without taking you out of the moment. It’s an impressive balancing act, with the bonds between the characters keeping everything from tipping over into total ridiculousness. For every highly choreographed Britney Spears cameo there’s a moment of realness in which a character expresses uncertainty about her choices or fear for the future. It all adds up to a show that’s highly entertaining while also insightful about the human condition — it’s merely a bonus that those humans just happen to be ridiculously attractive.