“Jane the Virgin,” one of the most exciting new shows of last year, has finally returned as hilarious, fun and poignant as ever. After a 22-episode first season that ate up plot at a frantic pace, it was hard not to wonder if the show would come back and struggle to find a new story to tell. Judging by this premiere, though, “Jane” is as fast-paced as ever, still maintaining its big laughs and big emotional beats.
Where we last left off, Jane Villaneuva (Gina Rodriguez, “Filly Brown”) had just given birth to a son, who was promptly kidnapped by an employee of criminal mastermind Sin Rostro. “Chapter 23,” the second season premiere, follows Jane and her two love interests, ex-fiancé Michael (Brett Dier, “Ravenswood”) and baby-daddy Rafael (Justin Baldoni, “Everwood”), as they search for baby Mateo.
It would be difficult to maintain the show’s sense of fun if Jane’s son remained missing for long, so it’s a bit of a relief to have Mateo back in his mother’s arms after roughly 10 minutes of the premiere. Luckily, that particular story, like every other story on “Jane the Virgin,” is told efficiently and quickly, and its conclusion only means the show has more time to explore other plots. After Jane’s father, telenovela star Rogelio (Jaime Camil, “The Poor, Rich Family”), tweets about Mateo’s kidnapping, paparazzi begin bombarding Jane outside her home. Meanwhile, Michael reluctantly gives Rafael advice that may bring him closer to Jane, and Rafael’s ex-wife, Petra (Yael Grobglas, “Reign”), plans to inseminate herself with Rafael’s one remaining sperm sample. All of these subplots are as entertaining and funny as ever, and the Latin Love Narrator (still fantastically voiced by Anthony Mendez, Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Narrator) helps keep them straight with his helpful and self-aware voiceover.
Still, amid all the soap opera drama with drunken Vegas weddings and secret inseminations, the most poignant scenes are the ones focused on the understated drama of Jane’s role as a new mother. Throughout the episode, Jane struggles with the seemingly halted production of her breastmilk, and worries that Mateo weighs too little. The heart of “Jane the Virgin,” more than theatrical murder plots and passionate romance, has always been the relationships among the three Villaneuva women, and it’s heartwarming to once again see Jane’s mother and grandmother, Xo (Andrea Navedo, “One Life to Live”) and Alba (Ivonne Coll, “Glee”), comfort her throughout her first week as a mother. Rodriguez invests Jane’s private domestic conflicts with such heart and feeling that when her milk does finally come out, it’s just as powerful and significant as a romantic embrace.
One of the best side effects of the show’s swift pace is that characters’ secrets don’t remain hidden for very long. In a lesser show, Xo and Rogelio would keep their Vegas wedding secret from Jane until the season finale, but in one of the few moments of downtime late in the episode, Xo admits the truth to Jane and Alba, who laugh it off and tease her. On a smaller scale, Rafael readily admits to Jane that Michael was the one who gave him fatherly advice, so Jane isn’t tempted to see Rafael with rose-colored glasses.
Speaking of which, “Jane the Virgin” may have the best love triangle on TV. In a different version of this same show, Michael might be the whiny, unfunny second choice, bland compared to Rafael’s charismatic playboy persona. Viewers are given reasons to love both Rafael and Michael, though. Michael may not have the sexual magnetism of Rafael (exemplified by Baldoni’s shirtless torso as he cradles Mateo near the end), but his chemistry with Jane is just as passionate, emphasized with playful jokes that show their genuine connection. Sure, Michael is the clear “nice guy” type, but he’s not the boring sap that phrase sometimes implies. Besides, some of the funniest scenes depict the adorable bromance between Michael and Rogelio, one of the best character pairings in the show.
“Chapter 23” kicks off the second season of “Jane the Virgin” by giving viewers what they want: countless laughs, ridiculously fast-moving plotlines and a sense of joy that characterizes few other shows on television. It’s going to be a great season.