The critically acclaimed, award-winning romantic dramedy is coming to an end. But the heart of Jane the Virgin lies with its audience and fans. I spoke with a few of them to find out why we love this show so much.
Romantic, sweeping dramas exist in almost every culture. These types of TV shows bond young girls and housewives all over the world. In Korea, they’re called K-dramas; in India, Europe, and the US, soap operas; there are Chinese dramas, Taiwanese dramas, and J-dramas. And in Mexico, they’re called telenovelas.
Although you’ll hear some Westerners call telenovelas “Spanish soap operas,” this Latin-American television genre presents a few key differences from soap operas. For one, a telenovela tells one self-contained story over the course of a series rather than multiple interdependent storylines over continuing runs. This also makes telenovelas much more fast-paced and concise than soap operas.
The fan base and culture built around the telenovela’s distinct storytelling style found its way into US television when Jane the Virgin premiered on The CW in October 2014. Since then, the series has made waves in North American pop culture, bolstering its lead actress, Gina Rodriguez, to fame (and notoriety).
The show’s heroine, Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a Miami waitress and amateur romance writer, lives with her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who’s a dance teacher and aspiring singer, and her very Catholic grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll). After Jane gets accidentally artificially inseminated at the gynecologist’s, her life becomes a whirlwind series of mishaps and adventures. You can imagine the chaos this brings about for a Catholic woman who’s been saving herself for marriage since she was a little girl.
In the wake of the insemination, Jane becomes tangled in a love triangle between her fiancé, Detective Michael Cordero Jr. (Brett Dier), and the donor of the sperm she was inseminated with, ex-playboy Rafael Solano (Justin Baldoni) — who also happens to be a co-owner of the Marbella Hotel where Jane works. Throughout the accidental insemination, murder conspiracies, and elusive drug lords, a “Latin Lover” narrator’s (Anthony Mendez) cutthroat wit and wordplay reinforce the dramatic storytelling style.
If you haven’t seen the show and all of this sounds a bit…unrealistic? Cheesy? Melodramatic? It’s because unrealistic, cheesy, and melodramatic are exactly the point. Jane the Virgin takes the classic theatricality of the telenovela, that quality that so effectively makes people gasp and squirm and scream at their TVs, and transforms it into a delightful rollercoaster of an American TV show. From the fanciful magical realism that springs out of Jane’s wayward imagination, a nod to the Latin-American literary masters who pioneered the genre, to compelling heartbreaks and sobering moments of growth, the series paints a world that people can’t seem to help but fall in love with.
Fans of Jane the Virgin recognize that there’s something special about this show. Maybe we hold a soft spot in our hearts for such childlike whimsy. Or maybe we see a bit of ourselves in the characters, who hope for their happy endings despite everything that’s gone wrong (and, trust me, a lot goes wrong). Or perhaps it’s simply the fact that the show is one of the only ones in North American mainstream media to centralize women and people of colour, and embracingly celebrate their culture rather than brush it off as an aside.
In the midst of gut-wrenching plot twists and ingenious trope subversion, Jane the Virgin also manages to artfully engage in critical and timely social causes. The US border crisis, pay parity for women and people of colour, sexuality, and mental health are only a few of the social and political issues the show has incorporated into its characteristically moving storylines and character arcs. This show composes a safe space wherein we can allow ourselves to indulge in feel-good media — in all its unrealistic, romantic glory — with real-world implications which actually cater to the experiences and concerns of its young audience.
So it’s easy to imagine the heartache we all felt when The CW announced its cancellation of Jane the Virgin in early 2018 — although it’s still currently airing its fifth season, the show won’t return for a sixth next year.
According to executive producer Brad Silberling, the fifth and final season will be “bittersweet but perfect.” He adds that the show is “one of the smartest on television … It basically assumes the intelligence of its audience. And that’s the reason why I love it. It definitely expects you to be an intelligent participant.”
In light of the cancellation, I spoke with a few of those intelligent participants to articulate exactly why we love Jane the Virgin so much, and why we’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Meghan, student & writer (she/her, 21)
Jane the Virgin is extremely timely, often political, and always well-written. The show is so thoughtful in its representation of characters that are, unfortunately, often reduced to stereotypes and tropes. It’s not a show centred around white people, and I think that representation is much needed.
It’s also great to see a show referencing pop culture and current events in a way that isn’t cringey. I love how they use their platform to discuss politics, such as the US border crisis and being anti-Trump.
Litzy, PhD Candidate (she/her, 27)
I’ve been studying Jane the Virgin since it premiered in 2014; I wrote a master’s thesis on the show, and I’m currently working on a dissertation on it.
The most meaningful episode for me was [the one in which] Alba becomes a US citizen. Alba is perhaps my favourite character — she reminds me of my grandfather, who naturalized in 2008.
Immigrants who naturalize have a profound experience with citizenship and belonging. At a time when immigrants, particularly Mexicans and [Latinxs], are vilified, Jane the Virgin’s sustained engagement with issues of citizenship is powerful. The show’s portrayal of the naturalization process was especially meaningful for me because I [myself] naturalized in 2015. The show’s legacy will be tied to its ability to disrupt a history of representations of [Latinxs] as foreign and threatening.
Manzoor, film enthusiast (he/him, 22)
Jane the Virgin didn’t start out as important to me. I gave it a chance because it came highly recommended by someone very close to me. But now, not only is it a show I love because of its interesting characters, good writing, and really good acting, it has that sentimental connection which really adds to its [value].
The biggest emotional response I’ve had to the show is a scene between Petra and [her girlfriend] J.R., who confesses to Petra that she isn’t ready to trust Petra completely. Petra responds, “Then I’ll have to work harder [to make you trust me again].” Though simple, the line brought me to tears because of how genuine and realistic it felt. It reminded me of past conversations I wish had ended that way.
Usually, grand gestures in the name of love (especially on the silver screen) don’t affect me much. But this one did. It made me want something I really didn’t think I cared for that strongly.
Emma, student (she/her, 20)
Despite the arguments and disagreements, Jane the Virgin conveys a lot of sentiment behind putting family first and how family is the first to support you through the turbulence of life. Regardless of how a person may be categorized in your family, it’s the care they place in you that matters.
Jane’s family represents three generations of women who have faced very different types of hardships, [but each woman’s story is just as resonant as the last]. From Jane and her fairytale romances with Michael and Rafael to Alba doing so much for Jorge, who doesn’t care for her as much as she does him, I could see myself [in the hope, fear, and longing of each situation].
Fan responses to the show certainly justify Silberling’s statement that Jane the Virgin assumes its audience’s intelligence and interacts with the audience accordingly. The responses also go on to prove the show’s success in engaging with viewers on multiple levels — through its minority representation, engagement with relevant social issues, and deeply inventive storytelling, Jane the Virgin has built a lasting legacy in the hearts of millions of viewers worldwide.
Are you a fan of dramas, soap operas, or telenovelas? What’s your favourite guilty pleasure show?