Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ugly Betty

The days when I anxiously awaited the new television season are long past. This year, I’d be surprised if I could even tell you the names of more than a half dozen new shows and even then, only a few like HEROES seemed the least bit interesting. Then I started hearing about UGLY BETTY.
At first I hated the name. What a terrible stigma to give to some poor girl! How sad that we could be making comedy out of the misfortunes of a plain girl in a fashion model world of beautiful people. I remembered that title, though, and I paid attention as I began to hear more and more about the series.
Produced by Hispanic actress Salma Hayek, UGLY BETTY is an Americanized (but still Hispanic) version of a long-running Colombian telenovela (soap opera) entitled Yo Lo Soy Betty La Fea. An hour-long comedy-drama, the basic plot deals with plain-Jane Betty as a fish out of water working as a personal assistant to a fashion magazine editor. Her common sense and ethics help her not always appreciative boss go up against the backstabbing co-workers after his job.
There’s some shooting fish in a barrel (another fish reference!) skewering of the easy target fashion industry, some in-jokes with telenovelas and some typical twenty-first century TV sex but none of that matters. What makes UGLY BETTY work and moves it several notches above where it probably should be is actress America Ferrera as Betty. In an absolutely winning performance, Ms. Ferrera demonstrates a flair for comedy, drama and the most winning (if metal-enhanced) smile on this year’s screens.
Not only that, the title is a misnomer. As a geek of long-standing, I can truly say that if I had met Betty back in the day, she would have been a real babe to me. The first two girls I ever dated had braces and nearly all the women I know even now have glasses. What makes her pretty has nothing to do with her looks and everything to do with the way the actress imbues her still-fresh role with pluck, spirit, and a delightful personality. Based on how well she fits her role, I want to see where she takes Betty.
Vanessa Williams, on the other hand, is a comic-booky villain (I, of course, don’t have a problem with that) who bears watching. She does bitchy well in the classic TV tradition. It’s so nice that the former Miss America has not only survived her early career scandal (about which I was once interviewed on TV) but thrived as both a singer and an actress. If every episode deals with her machinations to wrest control of the magazine, though, this could get old fast.
Bottom line: America Ferrera makes UGLY BETTY one to watch. Let’s keep an eye on it, though, to see if the writers can keep it that way. Here's a link to the official UGLY BETTY website: ABC: Ugly Betty. Also, for an undoubtedly brief time, ABC has the pilot available for viewing on their website,

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