Jane the Virgin, Ep. 1.01: “Chapter One” doesn’t shy away from telenovela influences

Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo
Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo

Jane the Virgin, Season 1, Episode 1, “Chapter One”
Teleplay by Jennie Snyder Ulman
Directed by Brad Silberling
Airs Mondays at 9 pm ET on The CW

Among the CW’s new shows in its fall slate was Jane the Virgin, a loose adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela titled Juana Le Virgen. The series was developed by Jennie Snyder Urman, who had previously written for shows such as Hope and Faith and Gilmore Girls, and revolves around the titular virginal Jane, following the upheaval brought into her life by her doctor accidentally artificially inseminating her. Facing the hurdle of having to overcome the ramifications of the premist, the pilot episode of the show manages to not only rationalise and move past it, but also deliver a judgment-free show with strong emotional beats that nonetheless doesn’t take itself very seriously, whilst displaying its telenovela influences.

The pilot makes for a breezy viewing, setting the stage for a show that’s light on its feet and doesn’t take itself seriously. However, this doesn’t mean the emotional situations the characters face is brushed off. Instead, the writers ensure the problems of the characters, especially the titular Jane, get enough weight, without passing judgment either way. The focus on Jane and her pregnancy is particularly deft in the pilot, as the show never casts a negative or positive light on Jane’s sexuality choice, nor does it portray any decision with regards to the baby as a bad one. Instead, it allows every character a chance to present their perspective on the issue, setting the stage for conflicts based on what the audience learns about the characters through their thoughts on the pregnancy, rather than setting up ideological camps. It will be interesting to see whether the show maintains this focus on characters as the season continues. With its proven willingness to throw plot realism to the wind, the show’s characters, if continued in this vein, may prove to be its strength, as an emotional investment in their reactions to events will help the show’s effectiveness.

Gina Rodriguez
Gina Rodriguez

The show also proudly wears its telenovela influences on its sleeve, and manages to marry those influences with well-developed characters. Much of the show’s success in making these parts into a cohesive whole is due to lead Gina Rodriguez, who manages to be an anchor for the show while still indulging in moments of over-dramatisation. The show’s strength will lie in how well it manages to continue combining these two elements, but with Rodriguez, the series has found itself a lead who seems poised to carry whatever the writers give her. The focus on characters also gives the show a somewhat unique all-female family at its centre, with Jane’s primary familial influences being her mother and grandmother. The possibility of watching how these women relate to each other is an exciting one, as this is a familial structure is rarely seen on television. How the show builds these relationships while still maintaining its telenovela influences will be worth watching. As the pilot itself points out, character relationships that seem improbable forms a key part of telenovelas, but Jane the Virgin appears set to steer clear of that. Being able to do so, while still maintaining the show’s influences, will be key, as an honest exploration of Jane’s family, or her relationship to Michael and Rafael, would be welcomed. The potential is there for such explorations in the show, but it will be up to the writers to thread that needle throughout the season.

Overall, however, the pilot promises a somewhat unique show, in the form of a drama that sits lightly with viewers. The show’s willingness to deal with human emotions without add-ons such as supernatural elements, along with its sole focus on a woman at its centre, combine to make it a rarity, and hopefully the show succeeds on the basis of these facets alone. However, these elements don’t take a backseat to quality, as the pilot indicates. The best example of the writers’ attention to detail is the manner in which the seemingly ludicrous premise plays out over the episode to fit within the show’s universe. The series’ potential is left wide open, and it will be worth watching to see how things evolve. A storyline that will be particularly worth watching is the plot involving Jane’s father. With his telenovela counterpart serving as Jane’s guiding voice during her times of crisis, the reveal of the real-life actor being her father is bound to throw her for a loop, and how she reacts to this news, as well as how she reconciles the idealistic figure in her mind to the real life counterpart promises to be fascinating to watch. If nothing else, the show is likely to make for a fun watch, anchored by a strong lead performance, and how the show manages to keep the balance between the tone and the strong characterisation will be worth keeping an eye on as the first season continues.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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