When I watched the first half of Jane the Virgin in 2014, I was raving about it like everyone else. The show is admittedly great in many ways, from an amazing Latino cast to the incredible individual performances from the likes of Jaime Camil and Gina Rodriguez who is the first CW actor to ever win a Golden Globe.
The conceptual hook, that Jane gets impregnated despite never having been with a man, is enough to get our attention, and the first half of the season was a rollercoaster of drama and comedy, all the while showing us what it would be like if Spanish-language telenovelas had actual production values.
Really, the entire premise of Jane the Virgin is to be one giant parody of telenovelas, as the constant narrator and screen annotations remind us at every turn. Simply stopping to write all the plot twists and turns down on paper will make you come up with the most complex, weird, ridiculousÂ storyÂ on modern day television, involving a drug lord that is secretly a core member of the cast, a host of adultery (including a step mom cheating with her step daughter), and of course Jane’s central pregnancy, which somehow now seems like the leastÂ absurdÂ thing about the show.
And yet, this constant joke, that Jane the Virgin is funny because it’s an modern day, higher budgeted parody of a telenovela, is starting to wear thin. The show is taking its plotlines a lot more seriously than it used to, and for muchÂ of the time in recent episodes, Jane the Virgin is a comedy without jokes.
That’s a strange statement to make, but it happens when the tone of the show is lighthearted, absurd and fun, but there are no actual jokes within it. There are funny characters. As in, anything Rogelio says or does is hilarious, but not actual jokes.
For example, there’s a running bit for a few-episode arc that while Jane’s grandma, Alba, is unconscious, her mother, Xiomara, promises God that she will “keep her legs closed until she has a ring” if only Alba wakes up. Alba has actually woken up a few moments before this, but keeps quiet so that when she does wake up a short while later, Xiomara thinks its divine intervention and keeps her promise (Alba is obsessed with making sure Jane and Xio don’t sleep with men unless they are married to them).
So I guess that’s the joke, but then the next three episodes are spent with Xio trying to avoid Rogelio at all costs, with the implication that if she even sees him, she’ll sleep with him. Alba keeps quiet, but is eventually found out after the narrator re-explains the context of the original promise no less than five different times through voiceovers, annotations, and flashbacks.
The comedy is all pretty muddled like that, and I’m finding it really hard to point to any jokes that have landed well in recent memory. The show actually handles drama a lot better than it does comedy, and there are real genuine moments of emotion involving Jane, Xio, and even villainess Petra, who we now almost feel bad for. The central love story with Jane and Rafael still doesn’t feel fully convincing, but that may be because like Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Michael, I secretly believe Rafael is drug dealer Sin Rostro. That seems like the kind of twist a telenovela would pull.
Jane the Virgin is a well-made show with a talented cast and a great hook for a core concept, but I worry how long it can be stretched out. As a parody of telenovelas with ridiculous, unbelievable plots, the problem is that Jane has a ridiculous, unbelievable plot, which is now sometimes so absurd, with new, insane developments each week, that it’s hard to care enough to follow along. Why get attached to any one arc when something insane happens every twenty minutes? Again, this is a symptom of the genre it’s a parody of, but at what point does the show simply become a telenovela, and lose the effect of the ever-present wink and smile? That’s how we’ve moved into “comedy without jokes” territory, and I worry the show could run out of steam and lose an interested audience unless it reels in its plotlines at least a little bit.
[Photos via The CW]