The series mocks Latin American soap operas, but affectionately.
Jane the Virgin (Monday, 8 p.m., CW) has fun with telenovela conventions. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is an ordinary young woman swept up in extraordinary events when she's accidentally inseminated during a routine exam. The sperm belongs to a playboy hotel owner (Justin Baldoni) who's trapped in a loveless marriage -- and who shared a kiss with Jane when they were kids. Jane's rotten boyfriend (Brett Dier) wants her to get an abortion, while the playboy wants her to hand the baby over to him and his coldhearted wife. I have no space to relate the dozens of other plot points.
Jane the Virgin finds the right tone for this material. It mocks Latin American soap operas, but affectionately. There's a lot of subtitled Spanish dialogue, Latin party music and refreshingly frank talk about abortion -- a rarity on broadcast TV. The actors create colorful caricatures without overdoing it.
Though Jane the Virgin is a satire, in many ways it affects you like a real telenovela. You hate the villains and love the humble heroine. You get caught up in the grand emotions. And, of course, you can't wait to see what happens in the next exciting episode.
Friday, 7:30 pm (ABC)
This new sitcom makes a grab for Latino audience share with the tale of first-generation Cristela (Cristela Alonzo), who hopes to rise above her manual-labor heritage and become a lawyer. The attempt at ethnic humor couldn't be much cruder, with exaggerated accents and illegal immigrant punch lines.
Unsurprisingly, the uplift at the end of the first episode falls flat. That's what happens when filmmakers are intent on reaching a demographic rather than telling a story.
Tuesday, 7 pm (CW)
While the movies huff and puff to bring comic book characters to life (Man of Steel, Iron Man 3), this fall's TV schedule makes it seem like the easiest thing in the world. First came Gotham, a compelling version of the Batman story, and now The Flash, in which a supercharged bolt of lightning turns hapless young Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) into the fastest man on Earth.
The Flash has a good time with Barry's transformation, rendering his speed with smoke and sparks. But this character is more than just a cool special effect. Charmingly played by Gustin, he's a human first and a superhuman second. Barry has tragedy in his past and uncertainty in his relationship with longtime friend and possible love interest Iris (Candice Patton). We feel his exhilaration when his new powers enable him to run toward trouble rather than away from it. We also relate to his insecurity about using those powers wisely -- aka maturing into an adult.
A review really can't do justice to The Flash's mixture of operatic emotions, striking images and playful humor. To give you an idea of how wonderful it is, there'd have to be smoke and sparks coming off this blurb.
Tuesday, 8 pm (NBC)
Whiny, shrieking Anna (Casey Wilson) wants nothing more than to marry smug, snarky Jake (Ken Marino). Within minutes it's clear that this new sitcom is desperate for laughs, and that those laughs will never arrive. Nonstop punch lines about fat people, flat-chested women and sexually transmitted diseases are a sure sign of a writing staff that's run out of gas before the end of the first episode. The script's references are oh-so-current (gay dads, Gravity), but the conceit of a woman scheming for a marriage proposal is pre-Ms. Magazine.
In the pilot, even Anna and Jake's families get sick of their relationship. So why should we viewers be expected to put up with it?
TV critic's farewell
This marks the last week for my column. After obsessively writing about television for almost 20 years, I figured it was time to get off the couch and see what's happening in the real world -- which, I'm told, is not the same as The Real World. Who knew?
When I started the column, I had no idea of the TV transformation about to take place: a new golden age that would bring us The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, The West Wing and Freaks and Geeks, among others. It's been a thrill to comment on such marvels as they came and went, and I've appreciated readers' kind words over the years. I've also appreciated hearing from those who disagreed with me, because what's more fun than arguing about television?
Find me on Facebook and Twitter (@deanrobbins) so we can keep the conversation going as I transition into an amateur TV watcher. Or, alternately, find me in the aforementioned real world. I'll be the guy with the pale skin, bleary eyes and dazed smile.