“Jane The Virgin” Review: “Chapter Four”

Four weeks into its run, “Jane The Virgin” has lost none of the intelligence and charm that marked its pilot episode. There’s almost no way it should still be as good, if not better, than what was already the best pilot this season had to offer. (That’s sort of damning it with faint praise, given the competition, but still!) Yet here we are, after another installment that made me laugh, made me choke up, and made me impressed at those putting this little slice of TV nirvana onscreen each week for my enjoyment.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “Jane” is the rigorousness with which the entire endeavor is assembled. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but really speaks to the fact that this show could easily slide by on the charms of its leading cast and do little else. That would still make “Jane” a fun diversion. What actually propels it up a step further lies in the way the writers have carefully plotted the show in ways that actually girds the melodramatic notes being played upon it. There are a LOT of things going on at once, but the show’s twists and turns are all driven by character choice rather than plot necessity.

That means frivolous storylines about the fate of the hotel actually resonate because they are really about people trying to use and expose one another in the process. Having Rafael play both his wife and his former business rival for fools invests us further in his character. (Just as they underestimated him, so have I over these past few weeks, both as a character and an actor.) Sure, Justin Baldoni is appropriately handsome and charming, but that’s the stuff of sex dreams, not actually the stuff of long-term character substance. It’s all well and fine for Jane to dream about him at this point in the show. But an episode like tonight makes him a viable entity over the long haul, regardless of his relationship with Jane.

gina-rodriguez-of-jane-the-virgin_article_story_large.jpgAs for Jane herself, Gina Rodriguez continues to turn in a performance as guileless as the titular character herself. There’s simply no artifice onscreen, which means there’s little to no barrier when it comes to audience empathy. It helps that she can sell the silly as well as the sad with equal aplomb. Where to start with her performance tonight? Freezing in place in her wedding dress when her fiancé arrived, as if standing still would magically render her invisible? The honest and pure pleasure she experienced during her dreams about Rafael? The overwhelming sadness upon learning the truth about her father (and, by extension, the lies of her mother)? All of those are hard-to-play moments for any actor. But Rodriguez pulled all three off in the same hour, grounding what could/should be a flighty show into something fully grounded at all points.

There are little touches all around the edge of that star-making performance that make this more than a one-woman show. As Jane’s mother and grandmother, Andrea Navedo and Ivonne Coll have a fantastically lived-in relationship, one that runs the gamut from silly bickering to decades-long simmering. I love how Jane’s abuela rarely speaks English, even while Xo herself never speaks Spanish. It’s a common real-life interaction that is nevertheless rare on television, even for shows such as “The Americans” that devote a good chunk of each episode to subtitled dialogue. That mix of English and Spanish reflects the mix of the show itself: It’s part telenovela and part comedy; it’s part heightened melodrama and part insightful family drama; it’s part comedy and part tragedy; it’s part throwaway gags and part meticulous planning. It’s a show that mines humor from religion without mocking it. It’s a show with voiceovers that serve as punchlines as well as gut punches.

In lesser hands, this mishmash of styles and tones would be the hottest of messes. Here? It’s a glorious cacophony that’s bursting with so much life and heart that the TV screen can barely contain it. Nothing else comes close to making this happy to watch TV at this point in 2014. For the scene in which Jane and Michael re-affirm their feelings for one another while back-to-back in a bridal shop alone, I would recommend this show to anyone who likes good television. The fact that that scene is just one of a dozen transcendent moments the show has already pulled off is reason to shout from the rooftops that everyone should be watching this damn show already.