“Jane the Virgin” is based on the Venezuelan telenovela of the same name, and does it ever live up to its roots. Outlandish, crazy storylines fly across the screen, from immaculate conceptions to love triangles to long-held family secrets — and all in the very first episode. Luckily, anchored by a lovable cast and smart, snappy writing, the show is elevated well beyond just scandalous twists and turns, making it one of the best new shows of the fall.
The premise is a hard one to wrap one’s mind around, making “Jane the Virgin” one of those shows that’s going to need that “trust me, just watch it” word of mouth. Jane (Gina Rodriguez), raised by a strict Catholic grandmother, has held on to the pledge to wait until marriage for sex, driving her longtime boyfriend (Brett Dier) somewhat crazy in the process. He’s understanding, though perhaps will have a bit more trouble maintaining that after Jane is accidentally artificially inseminated during a routine gynecological visit. To complicate matters further, the biological father of Jane’s baby is a sort-of ex (Justin Baldoni) who she had one magical evening with way back when. And that’s just the beginning of the telenovela-style revelations. There’s even a meta subplot involving telenovelas, which adds to the show’s sense of whimsy and fun, keeping the audience too entertained to ask the inevitable plausibility questions.
The CW soap is a departure for the network and for network primetime scripted offerings in general, but “Jane the Virgin” manages it splendidly, thanks in large part to its engaging and charming cast, led by breakout star Gina Rodriguez. While Jane goes from one roller coaster revelation to the next and the show revels in its own outrageousness, Rodriguez centers Jane and makes her someone to really root for, like your girl-next-door best friend who puts a positive spin on everything and who’s just kind and brave and deserves real happiness.
Rodriguez grounds the crazier aspects of the show in reality, or at least some version of reality — one that’s entertaining and addictive, but with a true emotional center. Jane’s life is likely more dramatic than any of its audience’s could ever be, but Rodriguez is unflailingly authentic and compelling, leaving the audience at ease to take this crazy journey with her.
“Jane the Virgin” premieres Monday, October 13th at 9pm on The CW.