TV

Jane the Virgin's deterministic comedy

Donna Bowman

Virgin birth may seem like an odd subject for a comedy, but Jane the Virgin is no ordinary comedy. In fact, it’s a little miracle.

To tell its sensationalist story of a young woman (Gina Rodriguez) from a devout Catholic family who is artificially inseminated by mistake during a gynecologist’s checkup, executive producer Jennie Snyder takes her source, the Venezualan telenovela Juana la Virgen, and turns the meta up to 10. Instead of a straight soap opera about this girl, her single mother, her pious grandmother, her long-lost father, her detective fiance, her hotel-owner boss (who happens to be the biological father of her child), his cheating wife and the gynecologist (who happens to be the hotel owner’s sister and his wife’s lover), Jane the Virgin is a self-aware comedy about a girl whose life takes on the trappings of a soap opera involving all of these things.

In order to underline all the unlikely coincidences and keep the labyrinthine plot straight, Jane the Virgin employs a narrator (voiced, in the exaggerated musical cadences of a clichéd Latin lover, by Anthony Mendez). The narrator recaps the action at the start of each episode, emphasizing just how many ridiculously lurid developments are piling up, and then announces that the viewer is all caught up and ready for this week’s insanity. But he also breaks into the action during each episode, telling us who’s lying, fooling themselves or about to have their blissful ignorance shattered.

Jane is trapped in a deterministic world, one where a telenovela-loving puppet master is pulling the strings.

In fact, it seems that Jane is at the mercy of this narrator - an omniscient force who revels in the curveballs thrown her way by the script and its secret authors. Jane, in other words, is trapped in a deterministic world, one where a telenovela-loving puppet master is pulling the strings. Jane spends every episode trying to find a way through the maze of complications the narrator places in her way.

The problem of determinism becomes more acute in theologies that emphasize the power of God. An absolutely sovereign and free God, John Calvin held, would dictate the fate of all creatures - and would not be dictated to by anything outside God’s self, including human merit. Even if there is a space for human agency within the broader strokes of God’s providential ordering of events and circumstances, the most important dimension of our freedom is in our response to the destiny prepared for us. We can do everything right, like Jane, building a pure foundation for her perfect life, but ultimately what becomes of us is not within our control.

And that is where Jane the Virgin ceases to be a farce and reveals its warmth and humanity. Every time Jane pauses, unsure whether to throw up her hands in frustration or soldier on through the barrage of ludicrous slings and arrows, we smile at her plight - but we also recognize our own.

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, Theology