(of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.
Jane the Virgin is as self-referential as any series currently on TV.
Let’s start with the character Rogelio De La Vega ... I could start any number of places, but that’s as good as any. Rogelio is a top star in telenovelas. He is played by Jaime Camil, who is a top star in telenovelas. Telenovelas differ from soap operas because they are limited series, whereas soap operas can theoretically run forever. Jane the Virgin could run forever, but the telenovela trope is still utilized by having Rogelio star in various telenovelas of limited length. When we first meet Rogelio, it is in his role as the titular character in The Passions of Santos. Later, we learn he is the father of Jane (the virgin). He takes a role on Pasión Intergalactica, a “sci-fi telenovela”, returns to Passions of Santos, and currently stars in Tiago a Través del Tiempo, a time-travel telenovela. Meanwhile, Rogelio is a character on Jane the Virgin, which itself is a form of telenovela.
Or how about the character played by Anthony Mendez? He is known only as “The Narrator”, which is an exact description of what he does. The show’s creator, Jennie Snyder Urman, has said that “The narrator does have a connection to the narrative; the narrator is specific, and he is a person”. We have never found out his specific connection to the narrative, but he is a fan favorite, and for good reason. Whether it’s the dialogue, Mendez’ delivery, or a combination of both, The Narrator is one of the most delightful characters on television. And, on a show that defines “meta”, he is more meta than them all. His preliminary spiels make every “previously on” segment on other shows seem pedestrian, and they regularly include comments about how this or that plot development is “like a telenovela”.
One of my favorite meta-moments came in a late episode in Season Two, which just finished. Jane is getting married, and she wants to have the wedding at her home, but the house gets flooded and is thus unusable. Her father has the crew from Tiago a Través del Tiempo build a mock-up for Jane’s house, so realistic looking that it could be the actual set the program uses. Later, we see the three Villanueva women sitting on the porch, as they so often do. They hear music, and when they follow the sound, they find Charo with her guitar, testing the acoustics for the yard. (Charo, we are told, is Rogelio’s third-best friend in all the world ... Rogelio is shown as pretty goofy most of the time, but in the world of Jane the Virgin, he really is a big telenovela star, and it makes sense that he’d be friends with Charo.) The women decide to go inside for some tea, which also seems very mundane. Until one of them points out that they are on a set, and there is no running water. The set and the house are interchangeable ... until they aren’t. (And, of course, “the house” is merely “a set” for the show Jane the Virgin.)
The meta moves are endless. Here’s one more, and I promise I’ll shut up about it: Jane’s professor tells her about The Bechdel Test, and the rest of the episode makes explicit connections between the test and the series in front of us. (The Narrator makes several references to this.)
There is more going on than just inside jokes. The telenovela structure allows for plot shenanigans that would be unacceptable otherwise. Something outrageous occurs (they play around with twins a lot, for instance), we start to roll our eyes, but then The Narrator says something like, “OMG! This is just like a telenovela!”, and somehow, everything is better. The integration of Latino culture, in particular the Spanish language, is fascinating. (Kathryn VanArendonk discusses this with sharp intelligence: “Jane’s bilingual dialogue has become a familiar, overlooked element of the series. It’s so commonplace to the show’s identity and tone that it’s easy to forget how fundamental bilingualism is to the [sic] its culture, relationships, and underlying DNA.”) There is great acting all over the place, starting with Gina Rodriguez as Jane, along with Camil and Mendez. Urman embraces the telenovela genre, but she is not limited by it ... the show’s core comes from the realistic portrait of family relationships. Even the guest cameos are fun ... Charo, of course (she loses her job as entertainer at the wedding to Rogelio’s other third-best friend, Bruno Mars, but she still turns up at the wedding ... as a bridesmaid!), but even someone like Britney Spears:
I think there are reasons why Jane the Virgin doesn’t get as much acclaim as it deserves. It’s not the usual anti-hero blood fest we see so often on HBO. (It’s on the CW, which used to mean “blah” to me, until I started watching The 100.) It’s got women at its center, even if it doesn’t always pass The Bechdel Test. Still, critics in general love it, none more than Maureen Ryan, who calls it the best show on TV. (Don’t follow that link unless you are caught up ... she discusses the season finale in some detail.)
Here are some other times I wrote about Jane the Virgin: