The collective exhale can begin. Loyal viewers of the CW comedy “Jane the Virgin” may have had some fears about whether it would be able to sustain the quality of its freshman season, but judging by the first episode of season 2, Jane Villanueva and her friends and family are in safe hands. If anything, the season 2 premiere is an even more accomplished distillation of the show’s consistently invigorating mixture.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Jane the Virgin” is that it makes its addictive blend of tones and stories look easy to pull off, but it’s difficult to think of a show that unites more on-screen elements and moving parts. The season premiere contains the usual strategically deployed texts, amusing (and informational) chyrons, diverting narration, not to mention heartfelt family drama, slapstick physical comedy, the occasional dash of melodrama and sly social commentary. Add in the season premiere’s healthy dollop of forward movement in the plot, and the energetically paced episode could have been a train wreck. It’s anything but.
In the opening minutes, the narrator (the indispensable Anthony Mendez) briskly gets the audience up to speed and reminds viewers that season 1 ended with the kidnapping of Jane’s newborn, Mateo. Though the machinations that set that in motion are referenced and the name of the villainous Sin Rostro is mentioned now and again, “Jane” doesn’t delve too deeply into the crime-solving aspect of the Villanueva story. The show has always been grounded by its characters’ relationships and aspirations, and Jane’s adjustment to being a new mom is the core of the premiere’s beguiling comedy and effectively sincere drama.
Despite its commitment to Jane’s emotional arc, the show remains chock full of laugh-out-loud moments. The use of one creatively deployed on-screen element is likely to induce many chuckles, and there is a scene in the opening minutes of season 2 that depicts Jane (Gina Rodridguez) attempting to run mere hours after giving birth. Most shows wouldn’t be able to segue beautifully from that goofy sequence into an emotionally resonant moment, but “Jane” unites heart and humor like few other shows on the TV landscape.
Perhaps because the season opener has to do a fair amount of recapping on the status of various characters and story lines, audiences are treated to a lot of Mendez’s narration in the episode, but that is, of course, only a good thing. Most shows struggle to unload exposition gracefully, but “Jane” has managed to turn one of the “eat your vegetables” aspects of television storytelling into a candy-coated treat.
Though the show’s entire cast is full of actors who clearly relish finding every gradation of heartbreak, silliness and hope that creator Jennie Snyder Urman throws at them, Mendez remains a standout in this accomplished cast. The Narrator is not just a conveyer of information, he’s a personality in his own right; a witty pal who roots for the characters even as he wryly describes their missteps, confusion and conflicts. If only the technology existed to make the Narrator and the delightfully self-regarding Rogelio (Jaime Camil) the voices of an app that could narrate viewers’ lives. Even though Jane’s life isn’t glamorous, having it described by Mendez — or observed by the blithely oblivious Rogelio — makes even the most workaday existence seem 40 percent more fun.
With ease and assurance, Rodriguez reminds viewers why she won a Golden Globe for her performance as Jane. The character’s intense desire to be a good mother is palpable, and yet with nothing more than a raised eyebrow, Rodriguez can find the amusing aspect of any scene. Both of her exes, police detective Michael (Brett Dier) and hotel owner Rafael (Justin Baldoni), remain understandably besotted with her, and yet the show’s focus remains the Villanueva women and the strong bonds they share. As the clan adjusts to the changes wrought by the arrival of a child, everyone in Jane’s orbit is recalibrating his or her relationships and expectations, and as Jane’s beloved abuela, Alba (Ivonne Coll), reminds her own daughter, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), sometimes the most powerful thing a mother can do is allow herself to admit she feels overwhelmed.
Thanks to the legacy of the great TV dramas of the last two decades, there’s a strong association between quality and darkness in the one-hour realm, and of course no one would argue that shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” are not tremendous accomplishments. But angst, a thirst for power and self-loathing are not the only effective vehicles for telling affecting stories about the human condition, and “Jane’s” quiet insistence on its heroine’s complexity and goodness never gets in the way of the show’s ability to be funny, surreal and frequently moving.
In any case, the innovative blend of form, mood and tone in “Jane the Virgin” continues to be an accomplishment of the highest order. It is envisioned, edited and curated with great deftness and economy, and the fact that it is so entertaining and accessible should not preclude it from being at the center of conversations about the best the medium has to offer.
Rogelio would have no problem putting himself in the highest tiers of artistic accomplishment, and though “Jane the Virgin” does not share the telenovela superstar’s amusingly grandiose tendencies, “Chapter Twenty-Three” shows it still deserves to be regarded as one of TV’s finest offerings.