Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Good and the Bad of Jane the Virgin

While I was sick recently, I binge-watched a lot of television because when I am sick I'm kind of an invalid.  My ambition is completely lost and all of my To Do lists go by the wayside as I struggle to get better.  As a result, I finally caught up with Jane the Virgin, a show I started a few weeks ago in the midst of a breakup and then the Christmas holidays got in the way.  For those unfamiliar, this is the show that randomly won Gina Rodriguez a Golden Globe last year and has been The CW's first surprise critical hit in eons.  As a result, I wanted to share four things I loved and four things I found infuriating about the show, which I still say swings far more to the plus than to the minus column and will be added to my DVR season passes from now on. (Spoilers Ahead if you haven't seen the show)

The Pro's

-The Narrator is marvelous.  Seriously-this is easily the best part of this series, and thankfully the Emmys noticed Anthony Mendez this past year with a nomination for Best Narrator (yes, this is in fact a category at the Emmys-who knew, and also he should have won it so that better happen this September since he lost).  Mendez's random asides, reminders about the complicated nature of the show's many plotlines, and general bon mots are all incredibly humorous.  I actually enjoy the digital media it folds into the series, in fact, and the way texts and random "remember this person" thought blurbs show up along with the narration.  It's a great touch for a show that is actively hoping to add new fans to its following.

-Jaime Camil's Rogelio is almost always my favorite part of each episode.  The longtime telenovela star plays the vain, ridiculous Rogelio, who occasionally veers into farce but in the best ways possible.  The show occasionally has a problem with characters who are too ridiculous for words, but his performance is not one of them, and I love the incredibly earnest way he delivers all of his lines.  Honestly, he is the standout character on the show in the way that Sue Sylvester was early on in Glee and Sean Hayes was in Will and Grace.  Hopefully he won't suffer their "wear out the welcome" fates, but for now I find him a delight.

-Soap operas are genuinely so much fun, and nighttime soaps are a genre I miss tremendously on television right now.  Honestly, unless you like Shonda Rhimes (which I don't at all-her character development, editing, and Ryan Murphy-esque pushes on select characters makes me grimace) there's no really great nighttime soaps on television anymore.  Admittedly, this is a comic look at the soap opera ala Ugly Betty, but it's still filled with all of the wonderful touches of the genre, and the comic timing of pretty much the entire cast is A+.

-It's actually funny.  Honestly, here's where I was a little worried, as hour-long comedies usually have to skimp on the laughter and constantly go for the drama because it's not sustainable, but while there is occasional drama and a lot of tears, this is a show that genuinely sustains the laughter and has a sharp enough supporting cast with developed personalities and flaws that you'll actually laugh several times during the show.  That hasn't happened for me for an hour-long comedy since Pushing Daisies, which is a huge accomplishment.

The Con's

-I don't know that I've read a lot of articles about this, but the LGBT characters on the show are both plentiful and problematic.  For starters, there's Luisa, the sister of main character Rafael who is admittedly funny at times, but is a complete nutjob who continues to be more and more erratic and ridiculous throughout the series.  She's also an intensely predatory gay, frequently finding it funny to hit on straight women like Michael's new partner.  It feels a bit like a stereotype out of the 1980's and considering the show is trying desperately to shatter select racial stereotypes, it's unfortunate that they don't seem to want to do the same with the LGBT characters (the same problem is true for Jane's friend Wesley, who seemed like a possible confidante for her but ended up being sneaky and we were meant to revel in his demise at Jane's professor's hand but it made me feel like he was bullied).

-This wouldn't be so problematic if it weren't for the fact that Jane, especially since the baby, has gotten annoying in the way that her character relies pretty heavily on heteronormative privilege.  This is hard one to explain, but she frequently finds herself defining herself entirely by her child, which makes me uncomfortable as it makes all of her dreams aside from Mateo seem like either extra or unimportant.  This is fine, I suppose, but then we're supposed to believe that she's trying super hard on her dreams of grad school and romance when in reality she's putting in less work than those around her and frequently wants the rules bent for her based on having a child.  We're meant to feel bad for her when she ducks out of a class to get a call about her son or when she brings her son to class and then interrupts the entire session because then she falls behind, but it's dismissing the work of those people who actually are there for the class or follow the rules.  I'm not trying to dismiss her problems (it's clearly hard being a single mother), but Jane is frequently portrayed as the victim, but really she's having her cake and trying to eat it too by wanting academic success but not putting in the work that her classmates are because she has other priorities.  This is a pet peeve of mine in real life and probably worth a fuller post somewhere else, but for now I will say it bothers me about Jane.

-I also don't love the way that the romantic triangle is played out on the show.  Admittedly, I love that it's meant to seem open-ended, and both Michael and Rafael on-paper have a shot, but come on here.  The girl never gets with the guy she was with in the beginning-that's how scripted romances work.  The problem for this is that clearly Michael is better for Jane.  Rafael admittedly looks like he stepped out of your Saturday afternoon fantasy time, but he's constantly putting his career and his own needs before Jane, whereas Michael is someone who gives and takes with our protagonist, and challenges her in a real way, even on some of her flaws.  The only connection that Jane has with Rafael is sharing a child together, but that would mean that she's picking her future husband based solely on an accident in a doctor's office, which would be really unfortunate.  Team Michael all the way, but knowing that that's a long-shot is difficult for me to stomach.

-Nighttime soaps have a problem, always, in that they have too many plot twists too quickly which causes them to feel either repetitive or ridiculous.  This is a problem even for terrific soaps like Desperate Housewives, where you can only have so many passes between two lovers before it becomes "make a decision!"  Jane the Virgin hasn't gotten there (yet), but it's got so many juggling balls it feels that way.  Look at how there are now two different women without faces on the show, so really we can't trust literally any person that randomly shows up on the program.  This is exciting, but it feels odd that we'd have two people we've never seen before, and you know there's going to be a connection.  There's also my internal worry over whether or not all of this is sustainable.  This isn't a problem, yet (the balance is teetering toward ridiculous, but always seems to pull back), but perhaps giving select characters like Petra or Michael some more domestic concerns rather than always centering around crime or Jane might keep the show simmering longer.

There you have it-my thoughts on Jane the Virgin.  Like I said above, don't take criticism as meaning I'm not having a good time (I am-I could do this sort of post on literally every show as no show is perfect), but I am curious where your love for the program stands.  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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