Actress Gina Rodriguez’s adorably fizzy charm would be enough to make CW’s Jane the Virgin look like a winner.
But the sitcom debuting at 9 p.m. Monday boasts a premise that’s high-concept and clever, and it’s that rare prospect of a show that is focused on Latino characters who go beyond stereotypes.
Based on a Venezuelan telenovela — the deliciously over-the-top soap opera genre that also gave us Ugly Betty — Jane the Virgin is about a young woman who has clung to celibacy as instructed by a sternly loving grandmother and to further her own dreams of professional success.
Fate has other, crazy plans, and the still-virginal Jane finds herself pregnant. Chaos and comedy ensue, impeccably played out in the pilot starring Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva; Brett Dier as her rightly confused fiance Michael; Ivonne Coll as grandmom Alba, and Andrea Navedo as Jane’s high-spirited mother, Xiomara.
For the CW, the sitcom is an odd duck, a family comedy on a schedule rife with zombies, superheroes and vampires in series including comic-book based newcomer The Flash.
The network must avoid slipping “completely down a genre hole” and being perceived as other than a broadcaster, CW President Mark Pedowitz told a TV critics’ meeting. Jane the Virgin can help, he said.
“Audiences do not come to us to watch procedurals. They have other, better places to go. But they do come to us to watch interesting characters in a very serialized form,” Pedowitz said.
For Rodriguez, 29, Jane the Virgin was a project worth waiting for. The actress, whose credits include The Bold and the Beautiful and Army Wives and indie films, said she turned down a role on Lifetime’s Devious Maids.
“I didn’t want to do a show about maids because there are other stories to be told” about Latinos, Rodriguez said in an interview. “I know all the women on Devious Maids, and I love and support and wish them only the best. … It just wasn’t my dream.”
The positive buzz swirling around the sitcom is reminiscent of what Rodriguez encountered when the 2012 film Filly Brown, in which she played an aspiring hip-hop artist, screened at Robert Redford’s Sundance festival.
“I was the ‘It Girl,’” she recalled. “People were like, ‘Rah, rah, rah, you’re amazing. You’re going to be Jennifer Lawrence’ ... Yeah, I wish.”
Such big-screen fame wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but she’s already determined how to handle herself whatever happens.
“I learned about the woman I want to be, that ego is the death of talent,” said Rodriguez, who doesn’t name names when it comes to anti-role models in the industry.
Besides, she says, she has already achieved a measure of success in the eyes of those she holds dearest, her family. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Rodriguez appeared on stage as artist Frida Kahlo and got one especially crucial review.
“ ‘You can do this. You’re good,’ ” she recalled her father telling her. “I said, ‘I made it.’ He believed in me. He accepted everything I wanted to accept and believe in.”
The Chicago-born Rodriguez credits parents Genero and Magali Rodriquez with instilling drive and positive self-esteem into her and her two older sisters. One is a physician, the other an investment banker.
“I’m not a self-made anything,” she said, firmly. “My father made me look in the mirror and say, ‘Today’s going to be a great day. I can and I will.’”
Rodriguez is appealingly confident in an interview, holding a listener’s gaze and punctuating her rapid-fire speech with smiles. Tell her she could give Oprah Winfrey a run for her money as a self-empowerment guru, and she laughs.
She certainly wasted no time in pursuing her goals. At age 7, Rodriguez joined a salsa dance company, eventually performing at events throughout the country. The experience awakened her to the actress within.
“When I was dancing onstage I just wanted the music to stop, and I wanted to talk, and I wanted the lights to come up, and I wanted the spotlight on me,” she said. “I always felt this pull to tell stories. I wanted people to hear my heart or hear my voice and be affected by it.”
AP Television Writer