Jane the Virgin aired the final episode of its first season this week, and if you haven't been watching, you've been missing out on the greatest new thing of the year.
It's a show that shouldn't work. The premise is off-puttingly strange, as the protagonist is accidentally artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant with the child of a rich crush from five years before. The plot twists are non-stop and insane. A narrator guides us through the story. The romance is so unapologetically earnest. Ironic Twitter hashtags appear on screen. But the show has a magic about it that makes everything just fit. It has great fun playing in telenovella tropes -- murders, villains, fake identities, amnesia, revelations, swooning romance and epic betrayals -- but it grounds these dramatics in a sharp sense of humor and a genuine heart, creating a series which is simultaneously one of the funniest and one of the sweetest things on TV.
Despite all its romance (and it does have a lot), the show's heart is the relationship between three female generations of the Villanueva family -- practical, romance-loving student-teacher Jane, her aspiring singer-dancer mother Xiomara, and her kindhearted traditional grandmother Alba. Although they have their differences and struggles, they are always there to support one another, and the familial love between them is rock upon which the rest of the show stands.
And they're surrounded by a wonderful cast of characters who inspire laughter and tears in equal measure. Jane the Virgin takes soap opera stereotypes that should be unlikeable or over-the-top or unbelievable and instead makes us feel, oh-so-deeply, for the characters and their predicaments. I commented when I first reviewed the show that the only two-dimensional character was love interest Rafael's scheming wife Petra, but I was completely mistaken there. Despite all the terrible things that she does, I found myself sympathizing with Petra, understanding her, willing her to succeed.
And that, really, is what makes the show so wonderful. It's full of melodramatic plots, racing along at break-neck pace, with larger than life characters, but it takes the time to make every one of them feel genuine and human. It throws out accidental artificial insemination and supervillains who can change their faces, and then it explores the human reactions to that, the emotional consequences, perfectly balancing the tongue-in-cheek drama and the effect that it would actually have. We fall for Jane as a protagonist, and even as we laugh at how ridiculous things become, we genuinely feel for her. When she cries, we cry. And because of that emotional connection, when she swoons, when the music swells for the big romantic moments, we swoon too. We believe in her world and her story, because we believe in her.
I could talk about how feminist this show is, how diverse, how progressive... and that would all be true. But it's also just plain excellent. And I can't wait until it returns to our screens in the fall. Meanwhile, if you haven't been watching it... well, you're in for a treat.