I am currently unemployed and one of the things I am filling my days with, as well as the relentless job applications and exploring Bristol, is watching the brilliant ‘Jane the Virgin’.
Two disclaimers for this post:
1. There will be spoilers.
2. I am not actually up to date with all of the episodes yet, see the job applications, but at the time of writing I have seen up to episode 15 of the second series.
I will firstly fill you in on the backstory if you have not seen any of this great show yet.
In the first episode, Jane, a 23 year old latino woman who is saving herself for marriage, is accidentally artificially inseminated with the ‘last’ remaining sperm sample of her boss, Rafael. From this main premise, numerous other narrative threads spin out. These include Jane’s detective fiancé Michael’s investigations, the return of Jane’s estranged father, two drug lords, murders, a dramatic love triangle, undocumented immigration, virginity, the secrets of Raphael’s ex-wife Petra, Catholicism, alcoholism and so much more!
‘Jane the Virgin’ has it’s roots in the telenovela tradition. The concept for the show originated in a Venezuelan telenovela called ‘Juana la Virgen’. A telenovela is a type of latin american soap opera which can be typified as topical, melodramatic and with a focus on socioculutrual messages. Another popular North American series which was originally based on a telenovela and had a lot of similar themes is ‘Ugly Betty’, which itself was a sensation when it came out. ‘Jane the Virgin’, however, is definitely a very unique show.
Although I could write about this topic forever, I just want to take the time to mention a few aspects of the show which I think make it so watchable and enjoyable.
The ‘Latin Lover’ Narrator –
‘Jane the Virgin’ is framed by an omnipresent, fifth wall breaking, good humoured narrator. Most of the episodes open up with a flashback of different stages of Jane’s life which are sometimes loosely related to the action of the coming episode and sometimes play important parts in it.
A reason that this style of narration is so effective is because it feels like the narrator is watching the episode for the first time along with you, the viewer. He verbalises the viewers shock, sadness or amusement and never speaks down to the viewer.
The narrator is also very aware of the conventions of the telenovela and refers to these throughout the show. There are also lot of references to popular culture and to the fact that this is a television programmes and this is a very part of the fun of the show.
The series also uses on-screen, written narration in a way that I don’t think I have ever seen done on a television show before and this really adds a whole new layer to the action.
In short, you really do need to watch ‘Jane the Virgin’ to appreciate the brilliance of the voice over and the on-screen narration!
I wrote my University dissertation on the use of multiple languages in French cinema, so on screen multilingualism is something that really fascinates me.
I think that ‘Jane the Virgin’ represents the multilingual, multicultural society of modern day America in a better way than anything else I have seen on television at the moment (apart from maybe ‘Orange is the New Black’).
We can clearly see the multilingual aspect of the show with Jane’s abuela, Alba. Although Alba can clearly understand English perfectly, she speaks in Spanish almost exclusively not only to Jane and her Mother, Xiomara, but to people outside of the family and never feels the need to apologise for this. This is an example of code-switching, which is when a person speaks more than one languages in the same conversation, or uses some elements of one language when speaking in another.
On the other hand, however, there is Petra and her mother, who are Czech. Apart from in a few scenes, they always speak to each other in English. Other Czech characters also usually speak in English when alone. Although this is brushed upon in one episode where Petra’s mother tells her that they must speak English to practice it for tourists, it does annoy me that they always speak in English when they are alone as this is not the first language of either of them.
Gina Rodriquez –
I don’t think the show would work half as well as it does if not for the wonderful acting of Gina Rodriquez. She is clearly a very versatile actor, who is not only very funny in the comedic scenes, but also has a wonderful sense of pathos in sadder scenes. She can also dance, play different fantasy versions of Jane and make you really understand why Jane is such a widely liked character.
At times she really does carry the whole show, but is still able to come across as a personable and genuine person. It it is no wonder that she won a Golden Globe for her performance! You should really check out her Golden Globe acceptance speech here.
One final thing I want to mention is the use of fantasy sequences in the show.
As I alluded to before, the show does not take itself too seriously at all. There is a sense that they makers of the show are quite aware of how ridiculous a lot of the premise is, but the viewer is always in on the joke in this.
Jane is an aspiring writer of romance and has a very active imagination. This occasionally spills out in fantasy sequences where we see her innermost thoughts and dreams played out on screen as she imagines them to happen.
These scenes allow the show to play around with reality and break the fourth role. It also adds an aspect of magical realism to the proceedings, as anything is likely to happen from one scene to another and you never really know where things will go next.
Have a look at this article for an example of some of the best fantasy scenes in the show.
Well, I hope this review has inspired you to search for this great show if you have not seen it yet.
As I say, I think, to certain extent, it really has something for everyone. If you aren’t interested in the love triangle, then maybe the crime plot will draw you in or the intermingling of the cultures will be of interest to you.