Massachusetts Daily Collegian

How the CW’s hottest new show won me over

By Johnny McCabe

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(CW)

(CW)

I have a long and storied history with goofy television shows.

Raised from an early age by my dad on such science fiction staples as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the various “Stargate” spinoffs, I have an intense appreciation for the genre in all its forms. I tend to regard tropes, plot twists and punny one-liners with fondness, but I hold in the highest regard by far the show that doesn’t take itself too seriously – for me, the best episodes of “Doctor Who” are the ones with the lamest special effects while I find “Sharknado’s” unapologetic commitment to the absurdity of its premise to be the movie’s biggest strength.

It should come as no surprise then that I am an avid fan of the CW’s Justice League themed duo of superhero shows, “The Flash” and “Arrow.” Surprisingly however, perhaps my favorite new show on the channel’s lineup is the gloriously over-the-top “Jane the Virgin.” Through a combination of self-aware genre tropes, relevant social issues and sharp, clever writing, “Jane the Virgin” went from being the type of show I would love to hate to the type of show I hate to miss.

When my girlfriend first suggested that I give the show a try, I was incredibly skeptical. I had casually observed her watching other CW shows, such as the vampire teen romance drama “The Vampire Diaries” and the wildly historically inaccurate “Reign,” and had seen enough to know that they were definitely not in my wheelhouse. Indeed, I only consented to watching “Arrow” after hearing about its creative use of minor characters from the source material (I was much less reluctant with “The Flash”). However, after giving it a try, I have to say that even I am completely hooked.

“Jane the Virgin’s” basic formula is built upon the tropes and generic features of Latin American soap operas, known as telenovelas, in order to tell the story of a chaste young woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated during a visit to the gynecologist.

Of course, in typical telenovela fashion, it only gets more complicated from there with love triangles, murder plots, faceless drug lords and long lost parents abound, all punctuated by the dulcet tones of the show’s narrator. In fact, Jane’s unintended pregnancy is only one of several story lines that run throughout the show’s ongoing first season and frequently serves more of a motivating background force than a direct plot consideration.

“Jane the Virgin’s” biggest strength as a show is it recognizes at once both the absurdity of its premise alongside the significance of an issue like unplanned pregnancy. The outstanding melodrama of telenovelas as a genre allows the show to bring a lighthearted yet respectfully thoughtful focus to some of the most relevant topics in our society today, from religion to interactions of wealth and class, and it does so in a way that is neither preachy nor irreverent.

Gina Rodriguez’s incredible performance as Jane is the emotional and comedic core of the show, with her single mother and single grandmother occupying critical and memorable orbits around her. The women of “Jane the Virgin” are real, believable and relatable – as are the show’s men, whose aforementioned love triangle with Jane is honestly the first example in modern media in which there isn’t a clear-cut “best option” between the two.

While I came to the CW because of shows like “The Flash” and “Arrow,” I undoubtedly stay for “Jane the Virgin.” In many ways, the shows do very similar things: take a premise and a genre that may seem ridiculous to some and turn it into a product that everyone can enjoy.

After all, comic book superheroes were once just as much of a cultural niche as telenovelas in the eyes of the general public. One can only hope that “Jane the Virgin” can do the same thing they have, not only for its genre, but for women and diversity as well.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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