(Disclaimer: this post contains so many spoilers, you’ll twitch in your sleep for years to come. Proceed at your own risk.)
Once upon a time, the universe was created and sometime after that came American TV Shows. Mostly TV shows featuring Caucasian characters. Nothing was wrong with this, I mean, it provided us with Friends, aka the GREATEST show of all time (fight me, I swear!). But some of us belonging to other races and ethnicities were always left with a wistful smile after the end of every episode. If only there had been a seventh friend. A Juan or a Juana who always made the sign of the cross over Joey before he went off to an audition and said a little prayer in his name to La Virgencita so he’d get the part. Someone to clap back at Rachel once in a while, because heaven knows that girl needed it. Someone to add a level of cultural depth to the gang. Some years (and several world wars later) the TV-making people realized this. Then they created Jane the Virgin and it was good.
Over the years, networks have made weak attempts–attemptishes, really–at incorporating different cultures into their shows. It’d been so long since a Ricky Ricardo had come to shake up American television that, maybe we’d just accepted that it would never happen again. But then Jane the Virgin was created and we realized that it was the Latin American show that we didn’t know we needed. Other shows in the past have either missed the mark or failed miserably. (Remember when Wizards of Waverly Place pretended like it was a Latin show by having a semi-Latin cast and then no other form of Latin representation? Sure, we appreciate the attempt, but we also feel they could’ve tried harder. That last bit can also apply to Selena Gomez’s singing career–What? Who said that?!?)
Thankfully, La Virgencita heard our prayers because Jane the Virgin is the Latin representation we’ve been waiting for and so much more.
When the producers of this show set out to make this show (or rather adapt it from the telenovela it originated from) they had a very clear theme in mind and that was “Make it Latin.” They didn’t just throw in some Latin actors, a few keyword phrases in Spanish and called it a day. The show is chockfull of cultural references like traditional Latin foods such as Arepas and Cubanos, Catholicism (being Catholic is almost as big a part of Latin culture as is the ability to speak Spanish), the main cast is composed of Latinos (Jane’s family is Venezuelan which is a good way of introducing some of the “less informed” audiences to Latin countries other than Mexico), Jane’s Abuela speaks exclusively in Spanish, and there is hardly an episode that goes by in which the telenovela cult following isn’t referenced. As a matter of fact, one of the most predominant features of this show is that it is a satire on the famous Latin American telenovelas. (I also really appreciate how my word document isn’t trying to tell me that I misspelled “telenovelas”—Microsoft Word, here to represent! Granted, it’s trying to correct “Arepas” and “Abuela” but credit where credit is due.)
Jane the Virgin is the whole package. It’s funny but it also has heart. REAL heart—not something that makes you go, “Oh—am I supposed to feel things now?” You don’t have to wait for the background music to kick in to cue your feels. It has a cast full of characters that carry the show on their great talent. They never miss a beat, whether they’re about to bring in a punchline, make us wipe our tears with our security blanket, or smack us with a shocking twist.
Although I’ve just finished season one, I do want to mention the one flaw in the plan. After all, no one is perfect. Ironically, it’s through trying to achieve perfection that they actually achieved imperfection. I like to call this flaw Rafael Solano because, well, that’s his name.
I know I’m going to get murdered in Spanish for saying this but Rafael is SO BORING, OMG. *ducks* Just hear me out before throwing your chanclas at me, alright?
From the very first episode, it was clear, he’s the one whom the writers of the show intend Jane to end up with. He’s the sharp-looking, wealthy, out-of-Jane’s league protagonist who can hardly do anything wrong (this is a BIG theme in telenovelas—the average, next door girl who wins the heart of the rich and handsome socialite). (It is also the theme in EVERY Jane Austen novel, but that’s beside the point.) (Jane Austen would’ve enjoyed telenovelas, I guess is what I’m trying to say.)(She would’ve TiVo’d Jane the Virgin, for sure.) (Do people still TiVo stuff??) Rafael is a textbook Gary Stu. In this season, so far, the worst thing he’s done is probably steal Petra from his work arch-nemesis Lachlan just to get back at him for getting the promotion he was after in his own father’s hotel. But other than that he’s just a weak character. (I mean, his favorite song is “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. I think even Bon Jovi would agree that that’s not their best song. Top three maybe, but not best. Basically, Raf–YA BASIC! #BasicRafaelIsBasic #TeamMichael4lyfe)
Every character in this show is intricately developed. I always look forward to scenes with Petra and her mother because you never know what those two are going to be cooking up next. Rogelio—Jane’s famous, although somewhat out-of-touch telenovela star father—is an absolute riot to watch. Jaime Camil nails his pretentious naiveté with an almost superhuman skill. Michael—Jane’s estranged ex-fiancé whom she dropped after developing feelings for Rafael—is the most human of all the characters. He’s flawed in complex ways that are relatable to us as the audience. Xiomara—Jane’s mom who gave birth to her at sixteen—is the Lorelai Gilmore of Latinas. She’s sexy, flirty, strong, and independent but also sometimes confused, a bit erratic and self-destructive.
But what do we have to say about Rafael Solano? He’s a blank palette, devoid of a real personality. A Bella Swan (or her twin born from her rib Anastasia Steele) in his own time. Some will argue that he tries to do the right thing, but I’ll say that he tries to do the safe thing, which usually equates to the boring thing. His character lacks true emotion. I’ve never once believed there was passion in his words when he tells Jane that he loves her and wants to be with her. Sometimes it feels like the writers are so set on making him “perfect” that they hesitate in moving his character forward or backward. Never has he taken a risky step. Yes, okay, some might say it was a risky step when he broke up with Jane to focus on growing the hotel, as well as out of fear of becoming like his parents—but was it really? Seems to me the writers were playing it safe again. His decision had no real repercussions. Sure, he lost Jane, but a few days later he was already trying to make amends and Jane was already thinking about taking him back. So nothing drastic happened there.
When Michael chose to hide the truth from Jane and cover up what he knew about Petra he took a big risk and he lost Jane big time. When Xiomara kissed Marco after her fight with Rogelio’s mother, she lost Rogelio. Jane took a lot of disapproval from her family (and hate from the audience) when she dumped Michael for Rafael. Even Rogelio, at some point before we met any of these characters, asked Xiomara to have an abortion when she became pregnant with Jane, which is a pretty controversial thing to do. And let’s not even get started on all the insane schemes Petra and her mother have been up to since the first episode of the show.
We like characters that f*ck up, plain and simple. We like characters that we can relate to. It doesn’t matter how much money they have or how beautiful they are or whether they are wizards or elves or aliens. We (I for sure do) enjoy when characters meten la pata, as we Latinos say, which literally translates to “they stick their foot in,” but roughly means “f*ck up”. Rafael has yet to show his true human, erratic yet redeemable side. On a line of integers, he’s been stuck at zero. Maaaaaaybe he’s slightly shifted to one and minus one but never really quite that far away from zero. For someone on such an important role as the primary male protagonist, this is problematic. At least for me, as an audience member, it is. Granted, I haven’t watched the following two seasons yet, so maybe there’s still hope. I probably still won’t like him much because I’m #TeamMichael through and through, but if Rafael is going to stick around I want to see some blood.
Still, I shake my head at the writers for going a whole season without giving Rafael Solano some meat to work with. I mean, I’m not saying it needs to be some whacked-out Shonda Rhimes plot (God knows I still wake up screaming “SEVEN FIFTY-TWO!!!” in the middle of the night thanks to Scandal) but I want to see Rafael step up and make some real life-altering choices, both good AND bad. I want to see him mess up, slip in the mud and then crawl back asking for redemption. That’s what strong characters are made of. So, Jane the Virgin writers, if you’re listening, stop being afraid to make Rafael imperfect. We like imperfect. We love imperfect. Imperfect is perfect.