By Vivian Obarski
If you watch television these days, there’s a lot of teasing regarding “OMG moments” — those moments that have social media and the water cooler blowing up in reaction and comment. While it isn’t a new thing — anyone remember the Who Shot JR? — this trend seems to have intensified the past few years as networks try and get people react online.
Some of it is engagement between fans and the production crew, some of it is just over-the-top moments where everyone’s jaws are left gaping as we’re left wondering if these things can be done. During my TV binges, I’ve noticed lots of shows that capitalize on that, but I’ve found it unsatisfactory, like a piece of candy with a weird aftertaste, as I dissect the moment later and realize that a character’s motivation was abruptly changed to fit a situation or I find a plot hole one could drive a truck through.
Which is why I’m pleasantly surprised by Jane the Virgin. Maybe it’s because it’s on the CW that it’s been allowed to flourish in a way that it couldn’t on a bigger network. The show is seriously filled with OMG moments — I mean, the insemination that kicks off the whole show is the original OMG moment — and it hasn’t let up at all. I think it says something that the revelation as to who shadowy drug cartel Sin Rostro was is probably one of the most mild OMG moments of this show.
But what makes all of this work is that the characters move and react organically to the situation. While some people didn’t support Jane wanting full custody of the baby, from her perspective it made total sense — having a child near the woman who shoved her grandmother down the stairs (this show) and the hotel’s reputation as “the murder hotel” (one of the funniest lines in the show). Michael’s initial reaction to Jane’s pregnancy is understandable, given the plans he had for their life together exploded.
None of the characters felt like they were sacrificed on the altar of the OMG moment. Instead, they created the OMG moment by how they are as people and their motivations (of course Petra would steal her ex-husband’s sperm — AGAIN — the woman was emotionally manipulated). It’s exaggerated, but it makes sense when you take it from their viewpoint.
Speaking of Petra — it would be easy to make her a scheming gold-digging villainess, but the show’s done us a favor by creating a complicated woman who wants her ex-husband to love her again and is fighting for her share of money. But by opening up her world and including her manipulative mother (this show does amazing work with mothers and the different methods of mothering — from Xo’s freewheeling style to Magda’s controlling issues), a stalker ex-boyfriend and even the strained push-pull of her relationship with Rafael, you get a sense as to who she is and what she wants. Her motivations are complicated and numerous, which gives the character many notes to play with, instead of just one.
In contrast, I could see Jane being easily reduced to a virtuous woman being thrown around by the insanity of the world around her, but it hasn’t been that. This show erased the idea that a “good” character is a boring character. She owns her sexuality (in this case, by not having it), by negotiating the parameters and dealing with the situation. She’s got heated kisses and chemistry filled scenes with both Rafael and Michael, but it never turns into a “WE SHOULD STOP NOW!” moment, because it’s clear people respect her decision and are willing to go with it because they respect her. She calls the shots in the terms of sex in her relationships. And she demands respect — from telling Michael in the pilot that it’s her turn to be selfish for a bit and plotting with Rafael to manipulate Petra to get Magda out of the hotel. It’s clear that good doesn’t mean meek.
I can’t even say how much I appreciate this after show after show currently places emphasis on the anti-hero. Maybe I’m sick of a world of Walter Whites and Don Drapers, but it’s hard to be honest and good at times. It’s more convenient to slide into the banal and selfish. One of my favorite moments with Jane was when she admitted to Michael that she had a fantasy about Rafael. That created a conflict by simply wanting to state the truth, when a lie would’ve been so much simpler, but as a character, Jane wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she did that — relationships are about openness to her.
Which brings up the love triangle between Rafael, Michael and Jane — I can’t think of any love triangle where all sides were compelling and interesting. It’s easy to make one side manipulative and trying to break up the other half, but it’s never been that. Both sides are compelling.
Rafael almost seems like destiny with the insemination as well as their kiss five years ago. However he also doesn’t seem to understand Jane as well and the way they tackle life is very different — he (rightfully) feels like life is short and you have to move fast, while she is a planner and needs her space and time to make her decisions. It’s a realistic hurdle to many relationships. He’s trying, but the pressure from him to have Jane take him back is also a sign that he’s still learning she needs her space and she can’t be manipulated as easily as some other conquests.
But Michael post-breakup has also shown a respectful caring for Jane that went beyond marrying her and their plans together (hilariously illustrated in several portrait shots). It’s not the family he envisioned, but he’ll deal with it. He’s given Jane the space she needs, but also at the same time said he doesn’t want to be chosen because he’s considered “safe.” He’s demanding his own agency in this relationship, which is also understandable. No one wants to be the second choice when it comes to love.
Now add in the self-absorbed, but also selfless, Rogelio; stern and loving Alba, who also has a flexible view of religion when it comes to family; Xiomara who is a more free-wheeling mother, but also fiercely protective of her daughter; and a host of other characters, and one would think this show would be overstuffed or plodding, but it never feels like that thanks to the deft pacing of the show.
That in and of itself is a marvel — it’s rare you can see a show spin so many plates and weave in so many loose threads without falling apart. I was surprised to see Magda come back as well as the show address Alba’s fall, but they did so with seamless integration and it helped give new life to Michael and Jane as well as fuel conflict between Jane and Petra (not to mention some hilarious fantasy wrestling sequences, another great OMG moment). Even the finale, with Sin Rostro returning was such a surprise and menace that I’m excited to see how they handle that in Season 2.
People have talked about the narrator and the use of white typeface to keep people abreast on what’s going on with the show, and I won’t belabor the point by saying I agree it’s a brilliant idea, because it is and it’s done so deftly that they’ve become another character and the friend you’re watching the show with.
What I give credit to is the showrunner — Jennie Snyder Urman for demanding and creating such an intricate plotline and quick pacing, as well as the recognition that the narrator and typeface add to the show and help remind viewers of past events. As the show goes into season 2, I’m going to be excited to see what they do and how things progress. It’s not often you see a show so confident in its vision from the pilot onward, so a show like this should be savored.
For me, this show has been a sheer pleasure to watch and it’s because everything is firing on all cylinders — the cast, the production, the crew, even the music work so well together. I can’t wait to see what happens in October and I hope that other people start discovering this gem.