Yesterday I reviewed “Olive Kitteridge,” an HBO miniseries premiering this Sunday night. The show, as I wrote, is intimate and finely acted. It’s also, like so much great television these days (exhibit A: “The Affair”), deeply dreary. That’s what makes this fall’s best new show, “Jane the Virgin” so refreshing: It’s a clever, complex show that’s actually fun to watch. “Jane the Virgin”—which will air its fourth episode Monday night on the CW—has a premise as absurd as its title: Jane (Gina Rodriguez) a young woman waiting until marriage to have sex, heads to her gynecologist for a regular check-up and ends up accidentally inseminated. (The doctor was having a really bad day.) Surprisingly for TV, Jane’s virginity isn’t fetishized or made into a badge of purity. She’s been afraid of following in her single mother’s footsteps; she doesn’t want to disappoint her super-religious grandmother; and she has her own religious beliefs, that are never dwelled on at length but are always respected.
An adaptation of a successful Venezuelan telenovela Juana La Virgen, the show it wears its telenovela roots proudly, with a hyper-stylized tone and self-aware narrator. “Jane the Virgin” isn’t this fall’s only show with origins in Spanish-language television. NBC’s execrable “Mysteries of Laura” is based on a long running Spanish series; Fox’s “Red Band Society” is adapted from a Catalan drama. This summer, ABC Family aired “Chasing Life,” based on the Mexican “Terminales.” All these series have struggled to find a consistent tone, veering between mawkish, salacious, and self-serious. What makes “Jane the Virgin” work is that, while the situations the characters end up in are absurd, the characters always react like actual human beings. Jane reacts to her pregnancy with disbelief, anger, and denial. The storybook narrator frames it as a heightened reality, but Jane and her family live in a world like our own. It's funnier than most current sitcoms and has the same witty, family-friendly appeal of "Gilmore Girls"—or a less campy "Ugly Betty."