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Television review: Second season of ‘Jane the Virgin’ goes for broke
Gina Rodriguez stars in "Jane the Virgin." (Courtesy of Greg Gayne, The CW)

Television review: Second season of ‘Jane the Virgin’ goes for broke

The season one finale of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” saw Jane Villanueva — our accidentally artificially inseminated heroine and the show’s namesake — give birth to her son, Mateo (fathered by her boss and old crush, Rafael Solano), only for “Sin Rostro” (Rafael’s international drug lord stepmother who killed his father and has been having an affair with his sister, Luisa, herself the doctor who artificially inseminated Jane) to kidnap the infant within minutes of his birth. Season two returns to this thread and more, including but not limited to: the love triangle with Michael (Jane’s cop ex-fiancee), the drama with Jane’s parents Xiomara and Rogelio (a hugely famous telenovela star) who started dating after twenty-three years apart and recently (and accidentally) got hitched in Las Vegas, and the fact that Petra — Rafael’s lovesick ex-wife – is now in possession of a misplaced second sample of Rafael’s sperm, and the ticking media time-bomb that is the immaculate conception.

Long story short, “Jane the Virgin” is a lot to handle. But it also means that there’s a lot to love about the show. The meta telenovela riffing is immediately one of the show’s most attractive idiosyncrasies. This is a show that fully embraces melodrama, but because it makes the characters themselves cognizant of the absurdity, it’s able to easily toe the line between being enjoyable and being overwhelming.

This awareness also highlights the differences in dramatic tone. The myriad plot points retain their emotional singularity because the hyper-aware characters define the stakes. Rather than blending together in an overwhelming whirlwind of drama, the characters directly comment on the drama of their world in such a way that we know what is normal versus what is weird versus what is truly earth-shattering. In the aftermath of Mateo’s kidnapping, Jane completely breaks down in front of her mother. She knows they’ve already dealt with immigration scares, perpetual heartache and an immaculate conception, but the loss of Mateo strikes the most crushing blow yet. The premiere understands that the stakes of last season’s cliffhanger have dwarfed everything else thus far, and as such addresses them accordingly.

This most shocking of shocks also grounds the episode in a way that few of the series’ episodes have been. That said, when the kidnapping plot wraps up about halfway through the premiere, there is a slightly disconcerting sense of segmentation that’s left in its place. We’ve been on a wild, emotional sprint to find Mateo at any cost, only to suddenly transition into the slow-burning dramatic embers of Xo and Rogelio’s secret marriage, Petra’s second sperm sample and The Love Triangle. As these new ridiculous arcs enter the arena, the episode becomes familiarly hectic. While as enjoyably wacky as ever, the contrast definitely draws a stark picture of how “Jane the Virgin” does drama. There is a difference in tension between the characters’ normal crazy and their weird crazy, and while both glue us to the screen, the two cannot perfectly coexist in one episode.

Fortunately, lead Gina Rodriguez is able to deftly move between all of these shades of crazy. Diving head-first into a splendid pool of emotional demands, Rodriguez’s Jane is the heart of this rollercoaster of a show. As a genuinely kind perfectionist immersed in disaster after disaster, she counterbalances the melodrama and the tone shifts. In one particularly telling scene, Rodriguez’s Jane desperately waddle-runs mere hours after delivering a baby, effectively moving between the absurd and the deeply emotional.

In this way, “Jane the Virgin” reminds us that even amidst the outlandishness of accidental artificial inseminations, obsessive ex-wives and evil masterminds, there is an ordinary weirdness that keeps life interesting. Both network and cable television are littered with antiheroes struggling to define the parameters of their ambiguous moralities. “Jane the Virgin” offers a stark departure from this darkness, and does so without sacrificing the multi-dimensionality of its characters. This is a show that wants to make you smile while shamelessly pulling at your heartstrings, and it looks like season two has no plans to venture into uncharted waters.

Contact Bella Levaggi at ilevaggi ‘at’ stanford.edu.