Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Pilot Review: Jane the Virgin
With a title like Jane the Virgin, you know exactly what you're getting: something a little risque with a bit of silliness. Make that a whole heap of silliness, once we hit about the halfway point of the absurd CW pilot based on the Venezuelan series Juana la Virgen. That's when the show embraces its melodramatic, over-the-top roots as a telenovela adaptation and takes a nosedive into near-nonsense.
Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) is a twenty-three year old virgin working at a hotel while putting herself through school in hopes of becoming a teacher. She's been dating detective Michael (Brett Dier, Ravenswood) for two years, but a fear instilled in her as a child by her overbearing grandmother (Ivonne Coll) about waiting until marriage to have sex has prevented Jane from going all the way. When Jane goes to her OB/GYN for a routine pap smear, the distracted doctor accidentally inseminates her. The twist? The father of the child is her boss and former crush, Rafael (Justin Baldoni), who is a cancer survivor sterilized by chemotherapy. His conniving wife (Yael Grobglas, Reign) took a sample from before his treatment and was going to secretly impregnate herself to prevent Rafael from divorcing her. And then Michael decides it's time for Jane and him to taket he next step and get married, despite what she decides to do with her child.
If that synopsis made any sense to you, then perhaps you are who Jane the Virgin is hoping to reach. It's unabashedly soapy, embracing its more ridiculous moments and plot twists and even referencing its own beginnings as a telenovela when Jane and her family sit down together to watch them. It gets to be a little too meta by episode's end (when Jane's father is revealed to be one of the telenovela stars she loves), and it tends to sink under the weight of all its parts. There are a host of characters, a bevy of plot twists, voiceover narration, hallucinations, dream sequences, even a musical number... the pilot is overstuffed and scattered. That's not enjoyable for me, but if you're a soap watcher then you may feel more at home. I just feel confused and pulled in thirty different directions.
Aside from structural issues I have with Jane, the content is somewhat suspect for me as well. When Jane is impregnated with a stranger's child by accident, you would think the first thing anyone would discuss is abortion. But that option isn't really on the table here, since Jane knows that she herself was an accident and could have easily been given up. The word "abortion" is never even spoken aloud (in English, at least), and I think that makes the show a bit one-sided. Obviously Jane is going to have the baby; otherwise, there would be no show. But not having the conversation misses out on an opportunity for educating the young, female audience the show is marketed toward.
None of these shortcomings fall on the shoulders of the cast, however. Unsurprisingly, most of the main cast has experience in soap operas (Rodriguez, Baldoni, and Coll all appeared on The Bold and the Beautiful, among others), so they take the more melodramatic material in Jennie Snyder Urman's script and run with it. Rodriguez in particular is totally endearing as the title character, bringing a starry-eyed optimism and endless glow to the part. Jane is sweet and likeable, a welcome change from the trend in television toward anti-heroes and flawed characters as series' leads. Jane is just an all-around good person, and that's refreshing to see. Yara Martinez (The Unit, The Lying Game) is genuinely funny as the doctor whose life is also turned upside down by her mistake, as is Grobglas as the scheming, gold-digging wife. There's not a weak link to be found (though I don't understand a word Coll says in her entirely Spanish-speaking role), and that's a blessing for Urman's packed, uninspired script that shoves just about every soap standard into one episode you could imagine: long-lost father returns, wife tries to secretly get pregnant to save her fortune, cheating spouses, a proposal, a pregnancy, a lesbian side-story, and more. It's too much. By the time Jane started imagining herself in a telenovela, I kind of checked out. No matter how charming the cast, this kind of storytelling gives me whiplash.