The unexpected miracle of "Jane the Virgin": Her surprisingly realistic television pregnancy

Alongside its wacky melodrama, the show tackles real pregnancy risks like birth defects and miscarriage with grace

Published February 17, 2015 5:39PM (EST)

Gina Rodriguez in "Jane the Virgin"           (The CW)
Gina Rodriguez in "Jane the Virgin" (The CW)

Trying to explain the appeal of “Jane the Virgin” to the uninitiated can be a trying task. That’s not to say that the show is unworthy of praise — on the contrary, the CW’s sleeper hit is one of the most endearing new series to grace our televisions in a long while. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the show’s premise sounds completely ridiculous: 23-year-old Jane (Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez) promised her grandmother she would waited until marriage to have sex so she doesn’t end up like her single mother, but when her gynecologist gets too distracted by a breakup, Jane gets accidentally inseminated with her boss’ sperm. Also, her gynecologist is her boss’ sister. Also, said gynecologist and boss’ sister is sleeping with their stepmother. Then there’s the whole question of who Jane’s father is, the drug kingpin who may or may not be based out of the hotel Jane works in, her boss’ money hungry wife, and…well, you get the idea.

Those who have already fallen under "Jane the Virgin"’s earnest spell know that the show plays all the above drama with more than just a wink. The show embraces the melodrama of telenovela conventions, relishing the opportunity to point out that it knows exactly how absurd it is. Most obviously, all the action is narrated by a cheeky “Latin Lover” voiceover (Anthony Mendez) that frequently pokes fun at the ever-twisting web of plotlines. Last night’s episode may be the best example of this self-awareness yet. As Jane found out more and more details about the police investigation into her boyfriend’s family, she became more and more invested in the drama that so resembled “her favorite telenovela.” From then on, any reveals and confessions were heightened beyond their usual dramatic flair to blossom into full-on telenovela, complete with men passionately spitting hatred at each other in front of pink sunsets on flimsy green screens. “Jane the Virgin” possesses a self-awareness that makes for a refreshing take on the soap opera, even as the show leans into the genre’s absurdity.

For all the show’s hyperbolic bluster, though, its portrayal of real-life issues has been both heartfelt and nuanced. Adopting aspects of telenovela’s exaggeration while still keeping the action grounded in complex characters allows Jane the Virgin to straddle genres and deliver both laughs and heartbreaking moments in equal measure. This holds especially true for the thing that can alienate newcomers from the show in the first place: Jane’s improbable pregnancy. This CW series about a virgin who gets accidentally inseminated with her boss’ sperm also has one of the most grounded, profound and thoughtful approaches to a pregnancy that’s ever been on television.

In the pilot alone, Jane and her family grapple with the accidental insemination by methodically going through all the options available to her. Should she keep it? If she does, what would custody look like? Or should she give the baby up to the father from whence the sperm came? Jane continues to struggle with these huge questions as the season progresses, and even as the telenovela complications multiply and accelerate, the issues surrounding her pregnancy are never rushed. Gina Rodriguez’s complex and honest acting proves why she is worthy of her historic Golden Globe win every single week, but she is never better than when she is portraying Jane’s fierce and conflicting feelings on the conditions surrounding her pregnancy.

While Jane the Virgin has always taken its heroine’s predicament seriously, last week’s episode was the most affecting chapter in her pregnancy yet. In the February 9 installment, Jane and her accidental sperm donor Rafael (Justin Baldoni) go to the doctor for a checkup thinking that they will find out the sex of the baby, and instead hear those dreaded words: “It may be nothing, but…”

This being a telenovela, the moment could veer off into wildly uncharted territory. But “Jane the Virgin” takes the opportunity to further ground Jane’s pregnancy in reality. Most pregnancies on television tend to work in extremes; women will either fight wacky cravings for pickles on ice cream or sob uncontrollably through sudden miscarriages. “Jane the Virgin,” however, uses genre-crossing to its advantage to make Jane’s pregnancy more nuanced, and therefore more realistic.

The doctor tells them that the baby has echogenic foci on its heart and bowels—a decidedly unsexy problem. “It may be nothing, but” if it doesn’t disappear by the third trimester, there is a chance that this could mean chromosomal problems further down the line, which could in turn cause more serious disabilities. Jane and Rafael could choose to do an amniocentesis test to know more exactly what the problem could be—but this accurate test has a one-in-300 chance of leading to a miscarriage.

As the rest of the cast spins off into their respective dramas of secret lovers and drug kingpins, Jane sits with her decision. The world around her may be tumultuous, but Jane herself is ruled by order. She likes organization, planning, and knowing exactly what lies ahead so she can be prepared. So she discusses the problem with her mother and grandmother; they even say the word “abortion” aloud, an occasion that’s still all too rare on television despite being a present reality in so many women’s actual lives. The uncertainty of her baby’s future then haunts Jane throughout the episode—literally. The bright white dot of the echogenic focus she saw on the sonogram follows her around all day, glowing from the chest of an adorable child she sees on the bus to work to her own bedroom ceiling, where the dot multiplies itself to resemble an ominous swath of stars.

Once Jane decides to have the amniocentesis, the wait to find out whether there has been a miscarriage or if there is something wrong with the chromosomes is excruciating. The otherwise frenetic show slowed down to match her unease. And even with last night’s episode—the last before a three-week break—there were no concrete answers on the baby’s future. Amidst the chaos of “Jane the Virgin”’s colorful and chaotic world, Jane’s pregnancy has emerged from its convoluted beginnings to become the show’s slow and steady constant.

By Caroline Framke

Caroline Framke is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has appeared in The A.V. Club and The Atlantic. Follow her @carolineframke.

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Jane The Virgin Pregnancy Telenovela Television Tv