I'm Sorry, Jane

By: José Manuel Simián

Last year, as the CW series Jane the Virgin aired its first episode, I published a post on this site that I've come to regret.

Writing on the first episode of the series, I worried that Jane was playing with fire when taking on Latino stereotypes and the language of telenovelas:

"The soap elements are all hyped (Miami! Extreme Catholicism! Juanes songs! Flamenco handclaps!) and simultaneously mocked by the heavy-accented narrator—yet the whole thing is not that far away from one of those stupid skits by Conan. Which leads one to ask, does Jane the Virgin know what it’s doing (i.e., trying to strike gold with the hole left by Ugly Betty), or is it just cluelessly pandering to the sophisticated Latino audiences of 2014? It’s too early to tell, but the first episode seemed to err on the side of firing blanks."

But as the season moved on (I recently binged on all of it thanks to the chilling magic of Netflix), I discovered that my fears were unfounded, and that Jane actually managed to do an almost impossible feat: to subvert Latino cliches and the language of telenovelas by bringing them close to the heart; to turn the excess and cheesiness involved in both and vindicate with a tongue-in-cheek attitude by exaggerating them to an extreme.

The plot (of a Catholic virginal woman being accidentally inseminated and then having to choose between two love interests) is almost irrelevant, because a good deal of the show's magic happens at a meta level: in the play between the velvet-voiced "Latin lover" narrator, who both moves the tale along and makes side comments about it, and the way in which the plot's events are depicted, always jumping between a telenovela-esque "reality" and the different telenovela tropes (and the telenovela world: Jane's dad happens to be a famous soap actor) that it mirrors. 

Which is not to say that Jane the Virgin is a heady, high-brow affair. Part of its enjoyment comes from simple jokes and gags, especially from the character of Rogelio de la Vega, Jane's dad, an actor impossibly egocentric and vain but somehow likable who, thanks to the performance of Mexican actor Jaime Camil, steals scene after scene and becomes one of the pillars of the show.

Jane is also a pleasure to watch for a more important (read: political) reason. In spite of dealing in Latino cliches and telenovela tropes, it is smart enough to portray Latinos in an unusual way on TV: like normal people. Yes, they may be stereotypical in many ways (Catholic, family oriented, abuela-worshipping, etc) but as the plot moves along, they're just regular Americans (and yes, the abuela is undocumented--that is, like many people who make an honest living in this country, in case you wondered), frequently switching languages and codes during a scene. You know, like regular Americans. 

LOGISTICS: Jane the VIrgin's second season is now available for free streaming here; season one can be streamed on Netflix.

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.