In a rough television season that has seen few standouts, the two bright diamonds of Jane the Virgin and The Flash are ripe for your discovery. With thoroughly winning casts and confident storytelling, both series burst out of the gate with superb pilots and are only getting better each week. They know exactly the stories they want to tell, exactly how they want to tell them, and exactly how to get us invested in their characters.
Without fail, Jane the Virgin and The Flash deliver entertaining television that puts a dopey smile on my face, makes me laugh, brings tears to my eyes, and leaves me giddy and wanting more. Thankfully, there will be more, as both Jane the Virgin and The Flash have been given full season orders.
Loosely adapted from the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, Jane the Virgin tells the story of, well, Jane, the virgin, and is unlike anything else on television at the moment. Picture the delightful whimsy of Pushing Daisies wrapped up in the heightened emotion and gasp-inducing moments of Ugly Betty.
Our heroine, who is saving herself for marriage to her fiancé, is accidentally inseminated during a routine gynecologist visit. Whoops! The biological father is a wealthy hotel manager and reformed playboy trapped in a loveless marriage, whose sister just happens to be the doctor who caused the mixup in the first place. Whoops! And did I mention that Jane and Rafael once kissed five years ago? Whoops! And that Jane now works for Rafael’s hotel? Whoops! Throw in the secret identity of Jane’s own biological father, love triangles galore, and an abuela who speaks almost entirely in Spanish, and you have the daring tightrope act that is Jane the Virgin.
Jane the Virgin fully embraces its telenovela roots and while its over-the-top premise might read as too convoluted by half on paper, it comes to vivid life on television. How does it carry out this delicate balance? This show is having so much FUN!
From the opening moments, the show sets you in its carefully constructed, yet absurdly surreal, world, complete with cheeky on-screen text, playfully revealing dream sequences, and an omniscient narrator billed in the closed captioning as the “Latin Lover Narrator.” Take the typically banal “Previously On” segments at the top of each episode. After breathlessly describing all the plot twists and storyline turns, the narrator remarks with a wink in his voice,”If it sounds like it is coming out of a telenovela; it is!” Jane the Virgin knows it is a television show and plays around with these rules, giving homage to the telenovela, while simultaneously gleefully poking and prodding its conventions. And yet it comes off as completely earnest.
Even as Jane the Virgin zooms through storylines left and right, the show is always in control. Thanks to deft storytelling, these beats are driven solely by character motivations and emotions that actually make sense. As wild as it all may seem, a sincere emotional reality grounds the series. Without that confidence in its intricately layered characters, the show would be all superficial gloss. Thankfully, the show takes its characters (and their wants, their hopes, and their fears) very seriously.
The throughly charming Gina Rodriguez leads the cast as Jane Villanueva. Reveling in a star-making turn, Rodriguez provides the nuanced emotional center of honesty and warmth. We feel for her. We laugh with her. We cheer for her. Her earnestness is instantly endearing. Yet at the same time, the Latin Lover Narrator notes, “Jane was a virgin, but not a saint.” She’s flawed. She’s judgmental. She’s judgmental of her flaws.
Surrounding Jane is a diverse and appealing cast, from her telenovela-loving abuela (a wise-cracking, Spanish-speaking Ivonne Coll), to her mother with dreams of her own (the lively Andrea Navedo), to the conniving hotelier’s wife you love to hate (Yael Groblas). With so many characters who we genuinely care about, it’s hard not to fall under Jane the Virgin‘s enchanting spell.
The Flash is simply thrilling television. This isn’t the sullen superhero fare that wallows in the grime of humanity, but rather, as the title would suggest, it’s a dynamic and energetic treat. To be sure, the usual superhero origin melodrama is still in play in Barry Allen’s tragic backstory (as a child, a mysterious force kills his mother, while his father is falsely convicted for her murder and is sent to jail), but the comic book storytelling touch is much lighter. It’s downright refreshing to watch a superhero show that celebrates the super as well as the hero.
The Flash comes to us fully formed, as executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg have an immediate grasp of the tone of the show. Like Jane the Virgin, The Flash is just having so much FUN and both shows illustrate how to get a kick out of archetypes while taking the characters and their problems seriously.
From the witty and vibrant color palette and design elements, to the witty and vibrant banter between the characters, this show never stops moving. The impressively eye-popping special effects are entertaining. There are always concerns that without a blockbuster budget, television effects can come across as cheesy, but this thankfully isn’t the case here. To that end, the cleverly interpreted comic book villains are genuinely fun as well, from Multiplex, who can create life-size clones, to Captain Cold, a criminal with a deadly cold blast gun.
Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is as charming as all get out. His fresh-faced earnestness makes lines like, “Lightning gave me abs?!” and “My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette. Yeah, teen me lived for danger” absolutely work in his favor. Gustin nails not only Barry’s easy-going nerd charisma, but he also brings a necessary depth to the role. Barry’s capacity for empathy is deep and you can see the passion and heartbreak in Gustin’s eyes.
Much of the emotional heft of the show comes from the strong dueling father figures in Barry’s life: Tom Cavanagh as the brilliant and enigmatic Harrison Wells and Jesse L. Martin as the protective detective Joe West. These two actors bring a welcomed sense of gravity, as they mentor and guide Barry through his new life. Granted, not everything on the series is operating at top speed yet. Any storyline involving Barry’s unrequited love interest, Iris West (played by Candice Patton), is a dull detour and slows the show to a crawl.
Still, the world of The Flash is a world of breakneck enthusiasm. In the current television landscape, shining optimism is becoming a rare commodity. Let’s celebrate it where we can.