Jane the Virgin had to dig itself out of one hell of a hole when it debuted. It was on The CW, a network that had trouble expanding its reach beyond its existing evangelists. (We can be identified by stopping parties dead with our passionate argument that "The Vampire Diaries' second season was one of the best dramatic seasons, full STOP.") Then there was the absurdity of Jane's premise: "A virgin gets accidentally artificially inseminated; hijinks ensue."
To its credit, though, Jane knew exactly how ridiculous it sounded, and it didn't care. It forged ahead with the confidence of a show that knew exactly what it wanted to be — and knew that would be great.
And so Jane the Virgin, a series about a teacher who is accidentally artificially inseminated, became the best surprise of last season. Anchored by Golden Globe winner (and as of today, second-time nominee) Gina Rodriguez as Jane, the show burned through plot with glee, leaning into the melodrama of its premise. It straddled the genres of telenovela, family drama, and romantic comedy, exploring family, love, and even immigration issues with warmth and wit. It let itself — and its viewers — laugh even as it broke hearts.
So much of the series is surprising, singular storytelling that stands out amongst television's crowded pack. Here are five things you'll see on Jane the Virgin that you just won't find anywhere else on television.
1) Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez
Quite simply: Jane the Virgin wouldn't work if it couldn't depend on Gina Rodriguez's performance as the titular Jane. It's not that the rest of the cast is lacking, because they are all, in fact, phenomenal. It's that Jane Villanueva, control-freak perfectionist with a deep love for romantic melodrama, is an incredibly difficult role, one Rodriguez has brilliantly acted from the inside out since day one.
Rodriguez's portrayal is wholehearted in the purest sense of the word. She throws herself into the role in a way that makes you trust her completely. Her Jane is resilient, brave, and fiercely protective, even as she is tender, neurotic, and terrified of the unknown.
Helped by creator Jennie Snyder Urman (Gilmore Girls) and a writers' room with a strong command of the character, Rodriguez's Jane immediately proved the show worthy of notice. There were many people who rolled their eyes at the show's outlandish premise (myself included), but the second we met Rodriguez's Jane, we were goners. This held especially true whenever Jane nursed heartbreak, since Rodriguez is one of television's most devastating criers — a quality that should only be magnified in this second season now that Jane has become a protective mother.
2) A lively narrator, with a sly sense of humor
Okay, so you never technically see the Narrator. But he's nonetheless a vital presence on the show, thanks in large part to a perfectly cheeky performance from Anthony Mendez.
The Narrator is our guide to Jane's overwhelming world. He keeps us up to date on what we've missed — the "previously on" opening segments are hilarious reminders of just how much happens on this show — and takes pleasure indulging in Jane's telenovela aspects. He roots for characters, clucks his tongue at poor decision-making, and delights in Jane's triumphs. The Narrator is just as much of a character as anyone else.
He also gets sporadic help from equally cheeky onscreen text. Sometimes this means clarifying characters. Other times, it means punching up a line with an extra joke. Take, for instance, the time when he was detailing how the mysterious Rose (Bridget Regan) went to her ex-girlfriend for intel, and mused, "Ahhh, this is the information Rose came for."
The Narrator is, in other words, a real goddamn delight.
3) A nuanced love triangle in which all sides are equal and believable
Ah, the love triangle: a classic storytelling staple going back to ancient times that has been done well maybe a dozen times. Ninety percent of the time, a television's love triangle will be two men fighting over a so-called extraordinary woman. One man will be the stable option, the other a smirking wild card, and every so often they'll swap roles and it'll be very exciting. The woman will hem and haw and, more often than not, make out with both against her better judgment. And so it goes, et cetera and so on.
Jane the Virgin rejects this logic completely. Jane finds herself in a love triangle between her former fiancé, good-guy cop Michael (Brett Dier), and Rafael (Justin Baldoni), the suave hotel owner whose sperm started this mess in the first place. But choosing between the two isn't Jane's priority so much as a distraction, one she would just wave away if she weren't afraid of hurting them.
The show does a brilliant job of shading in both Michael and Rafael so they both make a convincing case to be Jane's one and only. Michael has known Jane for years; they're comfortable together, and he is instinctively intuitive to her needs. Rafael is trying to make something of himself, and while he hasn't known Jane long, they have an instant connection where sparks fly — often literally, thanks to Jane's whimsical production.
The most refreshing part of this love triangle, though, is the fact that it doesn't treat anyone involved as less than a whole person. They all have strengths and faults that make the conflict feel far more realistic and relatable. This attention to character detail also means that Jane's reluctance to choose actually makes sense. This enduring love triangle isn't just a time-wasting device to draw out the drama.
4) A multigenerational immigrant family that's treated with respect, compassion, and humor
The bedrock of Jane the Virgin is the Villanueva family. Jane lives with her mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), who had her when she was still a teenager, and her grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), the fiercely devout glue that holds them all together. (Alba is also an undocumented immigrant, which created complications in the first season from which the show never shied away.)
Jane's virginity, in fact, was the result of a promise to Alba that she would keep herself pure until marriage, for God. The show never mocks this choice, or the faith that brought her to it.
Rodriguez has spoken often about the importance of more nuanced, compassionate depictions of Latino life onscreen, but she balks at the idea of calling Jane the Virgin "a Latino show." As she told TIME last year:
"It’s not a Latino show — it’s a human show! We talk about love, we talk about sex, we talk about dreams, we talk about failure, we talk about life. There’s nothing about that that’s different from any other ethnicity."
And that's the beauty of the Villanuevas: They are not treated as opportunities for saccharine PSAs or stereotyped into a corner. They are first and foremost a family, trying to figure out this life together, even when it throws them curveballs like, say, an accidental artificial insemination. (It really doesn't get any less ridiculous the more you say it.)
5) Rogelio de la Vega's puppy-dog face
The Villanueva women love and support one another above all — which can be intimidating to those lingering just outside their orbit. Michael has learned how to navigate them, but Rafael is still learning. Then there is Jane's father, who only came back into the picture once Jane was already pregnant.
In true telenovela fashion, the reveal of her father's identity was a jaw-dropping twist: Rogelio de la Vega (Jaime Camil) was the star of the Villanueva's favorite telenovela. Camil plays him as an oblivious but golden-hearted pretty boy who has fallen head over heels in love with his new family.
He means well, even as he flaunts an enormous ego. But when he has a face like this, can you really blame him?
Jane the Virgin airs Mondays at 8 pm on The CW. The first season is also available for streaming on Netflix.