It’s been a hot minute since the final season (5) of Jane the Virgin was released on the CW and we’re still a buzz over the ground the role of The Narrator in this series broke in redefining TV narration. If you haven’t caught it yet and have been tiptoeing around the frenzy of fan speculation about the identity of The Narrator, then go watch, and come back once you’re in the loop. Spoiler alert for Jane the Virgin, Gossip Girl, and How I Met Your Mother. Watch out. Here it comes: Mateo is the Narrator. There, it’s spoiled.
Changing The Role of a Narrator
With that out the way, Anthony Mendez, who is the voice of The Narrator in Jane the Virgin became not only one of the most popular TV narrators in recent years but one of the show’s absolute darlings. Described as “the best character on Jane the Virgin,” the Narrator went from being a quirky background role to carrying as much series weight and import as the title character, Jane Villanueva. The writers of Jane the Virgin and Mendez pushed and nudged the role of The Narrator in this TV series into exciting, wonderful directions. Rather than simply setting up, recapping episodes, and then fading into the background, the rule-breaking Narrator is part of the show, literally, as both the Narrator and as a character. What made the unseen voice so well-loved, and the object of much speculation is multi-fold.
The jumping-off point for Mendez is his rich spiced-chocolate tone of voice. His is a voice that caresses, soothes, and warms even in the most turbulent situations. Juxtapose that with his delivery, rife with punchy, comedic timing. It’s slightly naughty, sometimes judgemental, always conspiratorial, with an underlying warmth that draws you in for more. The Narrator unabashedly revels in the parody and melodrama of the archetypal Latin telenovela. And we love him for it.
The Narrator Becomes a Pivotal Character
Jane’s narrator takes everything characteristic of Ron Howard’s folksy, snarky, ahead-of-its-time Arrested Development narration and imbues it with the heightened melodrama and over-the-top sensuality of the telenovela genre. The result is charming and intriguing with a healthy dollop of self-deprecating humor. A narrator that can laugh at himself and the characters in the show, but with fierce loyalty and love, much as we would laugh along with our best friends or family at their foibles and antics.
Long after Jane the Virgin had lost the plot-point of its namesake (a.k.a., Jane was no longer a virgin) viewers continued to be captivated, tuning in for the story, the personalities, and the intrigue. For all the hints that Mateo might be the Narrator, fans and series sleuths turned away from the idea because of the Narrator’s archetypal Latin-lover accent. An accent that Mateo, born and raised in America, would not have. With the kind of thoughtfulness that brings the role of narrator to life, the real-life Anthony Mendez doesn’t have a natural Latin accent, much like Mateo wouldn’t. When he narrated that pivoted line “And for the record, I am” he breaks character, using his natural American accent. A masterclass of storytelling and narration. There is also a satisfying ending, one that can be reveled in when re-watching the show.
Other Series Showcasing the Narrator
Gossip Girl is another series where fans speculated about the character identity of the titular character, Gossip Girl. And when her (or rather his) identity was finally revealed, the voice we’d heard for several years didn’t match the character within the show, and fans were not happy. The logic and plot of the reveal were criticized as being so poorly thought out that some of the key Gossip Girl actors considered the reveal to be nonsensical. Including Gossip Girl herself, Dan Humphrey acted by Penn Badgley. Who on another note did a wonderful job narrating the series You, but that’s for another article. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother viewers stuck around for season after season to find out how Ted met his children’s mother. And the reveal was a major letdown, so much so that the show received major backlash and aired an alternate ending to soothe disappointed fans. To this day some deny the existence of the last season, as it post hoc ruins the show for them.
In Season 4 of Jane the Virgin, the writers upped the ante, throwing us a blind curveball with a female narrator. Played by voice actor Vanessa Marshall, with a pleasing timbre and a subtle Latin accent, this determined, somewhat flirty female narrator briefly takes over the story. “We had a lot of pressure of how to introduce Adam with enough significance,” explains Jennie Synder Urman to TV Guide, “So that he felt different somehow from other characters that we’ve introduced, that he came along with enough weight of his own and also humor.”
The episode was highly intriguing to me as a voice-over actor. Two narrators is not a device often found in television, especially not two narrators who enjoy snarky banter and flirt with each other, wrestling for domination over the narration and central protagonist of the story. It’s meta, very meta. Ground-breaking Jane the Virgin stalked further into new territory by letting these two narrators become aware of each other, creating tension and yet more intrigue. Further cementing the narration as not just another plot device, but as fully fleshed-out characters.
Will Narration Play a Bigger Role In Storytelling?
Jane the Virgin re-wrote the guidebook for what a TV narrator sounds like and how they interact with a show, with outstanding results. We can only hope to see this new narration genre explored further in future television series. To date, western media narrator roles have predominantly fallen to Mid-West, California, and British accents. The performances of Mendez and Marshall reflect our society’s more varied background and brings diversity to our notion of what narrators can be. Also, Mendez and Marshall are predominantly voice actors, not on-camera actors. Voice acting is a craft and an art unto itself. Casting them as the show’s narrators instead of Hollywood A-Listers gives insight into the kind of high-quality performance workaday voice-over artists can bring to the table.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, whose TV and film narrations have been heard on Discovery, Netflix, the major networks, in IMAX, the Smithsonian and the White House.