It’s time to welcome this telenovela to primetime.
Last week, The CW’s new soap operatic comedy Jane the Virgin premiered with a bang, scoring the highest Monday night ratings for the network since early 2012 – even building on its The Originals lead in.
Different from any other show on American network television at the moment, Jane the Virgin has made a splash amongst critics and viewers alike as a fun, unique comedy that isn’t afraid to reach the depths of absurdity to tug on our heart.
With any luck, Jane the Virgin’s early success will encourage more networks to try out new, innovative voices for primetime and rediscover the potential universal appeal of a culturally-diverse heroine at the story’s center.
Here’s five reasons why you need to tune in to watch Jane the Virgin tonight:
A breakout leading lady
Jane the Virgin’s funny and fresh cast is admittedly made up of mostly unknowns, recognizable by their guest spots on procedurals, or brief soap opera stints. So when the television show was initially picked up, the biggest celebrity draw was Jaime Camil – a telenovela veteran and Mexican superstar known for his swoon-worthy leading man roles in comedic telenovelas such as La fea mas bella, Por ella soy Eva, and Qué pobres tan ricos.
For Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans who keep their televisions glued to Telemundo), Jaime Camil promises a brand that we’re eager to see replicated on American television: a wild, deliciously dramatic soap opera based in comedy and filled with heart.
It’s a true delight then to see that although he’s left his leading man status behind for this CW stint, his *spoiler alert* fictional daughter has taken up the reins with gusto, and has already proven she has the chops necessary to pull off the delicate balance between Jane the Virgin’s broad comedy, as well as its sincere, emotional depth.
We’re only one episode in, but relative newcomer Gina Rodriguez (who received critical acclaim for her role in 2012’s Filly Brown) has already been lauded as TV’s new “It Girl” due to her bright, bubbly charm – she’s beautiful and confident, but feels real and relatable too. Playing Jane as stubborn but sweet, smart and yet innocent, despite the high-concept premise, Gina’s Jane feels like someone we’d know.
So sure, maybe we did show up for Jaime, but we’re staying for Gina.
It’s a 21st century telenovela
Jane the Virgin is a soap opera, and it knows it. Perhaps what makes the show seems so refreshing is that it revels in melodrama, fully embracing telenovela tropes and admitting their absurdity, while still amping up the antics.
The characters themselves, at first glance at least, read like a grocery list of telenovela stereotypes. There’s the handsome hotel magnate, and his devious blonde wife, the conniving mother-in-law, and the slimy brother with a secret. Our heroine is a beautiful, hardworking girl with a secret superstar dad (but no, he isn’t a priest.)
The self-awareness is there, and that only adds to the fun. Jaime Camil spurts out lines like, “When I found out that the deepest, truest love of my life was really my half-sister born as a result of my father’s secret double life, I was devastated – but I got through that, and you will get through this.” And if we’re going to go along for the ride with this crazy, outlandish premise, then this kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude is exactly what will have us rooting for the impossible.
A fun, Latin-inspired soundtrack
But even in the first episode, we’re promised that Jane the Virgin will have a unique, eclectic sound with music in both English and Spanish – besides Juanes and Paulina Rubio, CW favorite Rosi Golan’s song “Give Up the Ghost” also helps set the tone of the show.
It’s humor with a heart
Like Pushing Daisies with it’s colorful palette and snarky, omniscient narrator, Jane the Virgin’s delightful tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is charming in that despite the sarcasm, the show is brave enough to show its heart.
With throwaway lines like, “Those are her break-up boobs,” Jane the Virgin keeps the melodrama grounded by smiling through the tears, and never taking itself too seriously. Still, it roots for its characters and gives their hopes and dreams value, using humor to develop their personas.
It’s relatable AND different
Perhaps the best thing about Jane the Virgin is that it feels so relatable, and yet still so fresh and different from anything on TV. In some ways, it seems like a television show tailor made for a very specific subculture of Americans – bilingual Latino millenials – but then, perhaps even because of its specificity, the show feels so universal.
It’s a show about family, and faith, and finding yourself and love along the way. It plays with some fun Latino stereotypes, like the family’s devotion to telenovelas and Catholicism (“Hail Jane, full of grace”), but breaks away from negative Latino tropes that are generally so commonplace in American television.
As a hardworking dreamer, Jane isn’t defined by what culture she is or isn’t. She wants to be respected, and she demands that the world take her seriously. She’s a heroine worth rooting for, and her kooky cast of supporting characters provide a sweet and (emotionally) diverse balance we can’t wait to get to know.
Jane the Virgin airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW.