Review: Catching up with the terrific 'Jane the Virgin'
A few thoughts on last night's "Jane the Virgin" — and what a pleasant surprise the show has been so far this season — coming up just as soon as I go sit in a sweat lodge, drinking tea, throwing up and being guided by my shaman...
In the crush of fall premieres, "Jane" was a show I never got around to reviewing. As discussed with Fienberg on a fall podcast, I felt it was a very well-made example of a show that was Not For Me, and that even though I could appreciate how terrific Gina Rodriguez was in such a tricky role, I didn't expect to be watching for more than an additional episode or two.
Whoops. Like some of the best shows of the CW's precursor channel, the WB (particularly "Gilmore Girls"), "Jane" has turned out to be executed so well in so many different ways that I'm getting enormous pleasure out of it every single week.
In particular, one of the things I like is how showrunner Jennie Urman and her staff are able to both deploy soap/telenovela tropes while not making the characters slaves to them. Jane and the other characters fit into various archetypes, but they're also smart and have their own agency and aren't so easily chained down by the clichés that are part and parcel of this kind of show. Case in point from last night's episode: Rafael is set up so that Jane thinks he has had sex with a random blonde, a fairly stock misunderstanding that many a show would use to put off an inevitable coupling. Instead, the woman (a hooker with a heart of gold, and a son she wishes she saw more) tells Jane the truth — but even knowing that, Jane still has very understandable doubts about the viability of their relationship, given who he is (wealthy just-barely-former playboy) and who she is (blue-collar virgin). It was a choice that let the characters drive the story, instead of the other way around, and I felt instant relief that Jane wasn't just victim of someone else's scheme.
Given all that, I was curious how the show was going to deal with the matter of Jane's lawsuit against the doctor who accidentally inseminated her (aka Rafael's sister). On the one hand, if this situation happened in the real world — and "Jane" manages to keep at least one toe dipped in reality, even as so many of its characters exist in tonally broader worlds — Jane would not only absolutely sue, but absolutely win a fortune. On the other hand, if Jane becomes independently wealthy, this is suddenly a very different show. How, I wondered, would Urman find a way to keep Jane from winning the suit without it feeling dumb or manipulative?
I didn't have to wait long, it turned out, as the episode presented Urman's attempt at unraveling this Gordian knot: Jane, fearful that a lawsuit might expose her beloved grandmother's status as an undocumented immigrant, drops the whole thing. And I'm not sure yet how I feel about that.
On the one hand, it's a decision that comes from character, as the show has done a great job of illustrating the bond between Jane and her abuela. In reality, people do avoid litigation for reasons like this. But it still feels too neat, and too simplistic, given that Jane could have pushed for a quick settlement that would give her some security without financially ruining Rafael and his family.
I don't know that this specific problem is one that was ever going to have a perfect solution, though, given what's both plausible for Jane and necessary for the series as a whole. And that series has done so many good things early in its run that I'm going to accept this one as the cost of doing business and move on. But the amount of plate-spinning involved in a show with this many stories and tones is no easy thing, and the resolution of the suit (for now, anyway) was the first sign that every now and then, one of those plates may just have to break.
What does everybody else think — of both last night's episode and the show so far?