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Why Jane the Virgin is so good, explained in one GIF

It involves Britney Spears, believe it or not.

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Even when Jane the Virgin, The CW's terrific spin on telenovelas, isn't firing on all cylinders, it's still one of TV's most fun shows to just watch. Check out this GIF (which I've sped up slightly) of a minor moment from the November 9 episode:

Jane meets Britney Spears.
Jane and Britney Spears, together forever.
The CW

In this moment, Jane (Gina Rodriguez) discovers that Britney Spears is visiting the hotel where she works. Obviously, Spears's appearance on Jane the Virgin was an attempt by The CW to boost ratings with some stunt casting, and the show probably could have just stuck her in a minor role and hyped her cameo (like, say, How I Met Your Mother did for its episodes that featured Spears as a guest star).

Instead it overdelivered, and Spears's scenes underline Jane's elastic reality and sense of fun. In the GIF above, there's absolutely no reason for Spears to be surrounded by an army of dancers who move in perfect synchronization, and there's no reason for the singer's every movement to seem perfectly choreographed.

But all of this indicates just how Spears's presence elevates Jane the Virgin's already heightened reality to something even more out there. The show does far more to make Spears feel at home within its universe than HIMYM ever did, while also making her feel just a little bit alien.

Jane the Virgin takes place in the kind of reality where Britney Spears would just drop by and be surrounded by backup dancers at all moments. In other words, it takes place in TV reality, and it's not afraid to remind you of that at every turn.

Every frame of Jane the Virgin feels fussed over

Gina Rodriguez and Britney Spears dance.
Also, there was dancing.
The CW

Truth be told, the episode this moment comes from was a bit overstuffed. The show's love triangle between Jane and two prospective suitors (one of them being the father of the baby she conceived after being accidentally artificially inseminated — for more on this, please read my colleague Caroline Framke) has started to take on water, to the degree that it can really hurt the episodes it's featured in.

Such was the case with this one, "Chapter Twenty-Seven," which saw Jane decide neither of her potential boyfriends was good for her — even though we're well aware that the show will return to this storyline sooner or later.

However, even when these stories aren't working, Jane is a pure delight to sit back and simply watch. Every frame of the show feels meticulously crafted and brightened up with a toothbrush used to clean out any grime between the nooks and crannies. It feels like it takes place in our world, but only a version of our world, where everything is grander and goofier and that much more exciting.

Jane's budget is probably a tiny fraction of the budgets of much bigger shows, but it makes up for that in its consistency of vision and its dedication to turning every single moment into something entertaining, whimsical, or moving. It comfortably nestles the loving relationships between its central family right up alongside wackier, bolder moments (like the one above), and it manages to make all of them "stick" because of how carefully it calibrates every single one.

Making good television isn't a matter of throwing money at the screen. The CW, in particular, has realized that its smaller budgets don't have to be hindrances if it has showrunners with real visions and shows worth supporting. Jane the Virgin and its showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman are a perfect example; Jane is the kind of show that's worth watching even when things aren't working, and there's perhaps no higher compliment than that.

Jane the Virgin airs Mondays at 9 pm Eastern on The CW.