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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Retro Review: Ugly Betty

Duration: 2006 - 2010 (ABC)
No of seasons: 4
Release date: (US) 28 September 2006
DVD release by Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Touchstone 
Produced by Touchstone Television and ABC Studios
Cast: America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Vanessa L. Williams, Judith Light, Ashley Jensen, Chris Gorham, Freddy Rodriguez 

'This show wasn't ugly... rather it could have, and should have been so much more'

It's incredible to think that almost 10 years ago, a brand new show called Ugly Betty debuted on our screens with such hype and excitement generated by ABC and programme executives, thanks to its array of eccentric and colorful characters in a cartoon-eque way. 

Ugly Betty is a fish-out-of-water tale of a young Latina woman from Queens, New York named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), who lives with her older sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz), father Ignascio (Tony Plana) and nephew, Justin (Mark Indelicato). She lands a top job at fashion magazine, MODE. Betty is young, smart, hardworking, down-to-earth; however, she is not attractive and thin, like the models that grace the front covers of MODE & becomes the butt of jokes as well as a target for abuse by her co-workers. With editor and boss Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), she helps him navigate through the shark infested waters of the fashion world. 

The first season had a couple of wonderful episodes to speak of; my favourite being 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' when Marc, with the help of Betty acting as his girlfriend, pretended to be straight in front of his homophobic mother. It was a brilliant episode with some humourous moments such as Marc kissing Betty and washing his mouth out with water afterwards, and sad ones such as his mother rejecting him completely, after he tells her the truth. Marc St James (Michael Urie) alongside Amanda Tanen Sommers (Becki Newton) were my favourite characters from seasons 1-3. 

But after the first season - which was and still is the best season by a long mile: funny, heartfelt & poignant in places, well written-, for the general public Ugly Betty became a passing trend and fad; after the hype and excitement during 2006 for its debut season, most of the audience had moved onto other shows.  

From season 2 up until towards the last 5 episodes of the last season, the show was more about Betty and her love interests, rather than her career progression at MODE. The show diverted from the original premise of the plot and the longer it went on, without any major improvements, Ugly Betty had lost its way. 

Season 2 was my most loathed season out of the 4 for many reasons; far too many celebrity guest cameos, after a good start it later descended into a right mess, and the show turned into one that was more about the writers trying to outsmart each other to see who had the better and most outrageous story line. It was one absurd idea to another. Yes, it is based on the original Telenovella 'Yo Soy Betty', which was wacky and over-the-top in places, but still, Ugly Betty's plot twists in season 2 became ludicrous. I liked Wilhelmina, but her hooking up with Bradford was icky, and that whole baby story line involving Christina and how it all unfolded, got out of hand completely. The one saving grace from it all was the baby turning out to be Christina's in the end, and that she got a deserved send-off in season 3. 

The love triangle that long persisted throughout season 2 between Gio and Henry over Betty, was at most nauseating and tedious. I liked Gio, he was all right, but the manner they handled the Henry character after season 1 by Silvio Horta and the writers, was woeful. And though this is a dramedy, the humour in season 2 was childish in nature, rather than well done in the first season.  

As for season 3, it is still regarded by most fans of the show as the worst of the 4 seasons - back when it originally aired, I was regularly defending it against a set of fans, who didn't enjoy it, as I enjoyed most of the episodes and was happy that the Betty/Gio/Henry love triangle ended. Reflecting back on it now and my thoughts on it today, it's not as good as I said it was back in 2008. There were a couple of not so good episodes, but neither was it as bad as others have made it out to be. 

The writers did not go far enough to develop the characters properly; Marc and Amanda for instance had so many scenes together in seasons 1-3, yet whilst season 4 focused on those characters individually with their own storylines, as a partnership and friendship, we didn't see a lot of it. Most of the laughs on the series were also generated by this pairing; so when they weren't together for most of season 4, the show took a massive nose dive & became less funnier as it continued. 

Its potential left unfulfilled, Ugly Betty was anything but ugly, rather it could have and should have been so much more. 

In season 4, right after the 'terrible' Nico story-line came to an end, the show then became shockingly unfunny and dull. I know some fans have said Ugly Betty was cancelled, just as the writing was improving in that last season. But during the time ABC had announced they had pulled the plug on the series, I just wasn't getting the feeling season 4 was getting better as the series went on. With each passing episode, I was hoping and expecting they would be funnier; instead, the show dragged on and on with no big improvements made. I didn't laugh much. One of the core strengths of the show during the first season especially was the humour and comedy -, and season 4 just wasn't funny enough. But for the Weiner episode, it was devoid of fun.  

Betty glammed up, and as her appearance changed, it was no longer Ugly Betty, but beautiful Betty the manager with the braces gone, hair looking more shinier, bangs gone & dressing smartly.  

The show's cancellation - as painful as it was to many Ugly Betty fans - was indicative of how much Ugly Betty fell from grace so quickly. 

It's worth mentioning that during the pilot episode, Daniel's father Bradford Meade hires Betty as Daniel's assistant; Daniel has a penchant for attractive looking young women. Therefore, by hiring a less physically attractive female worker, it would result in Daniel focusing less of his attention on her appearance and that whatever feelings he had for Betty, it would be not physical, rather he liked her for who she is on the inside than be it on the outside. I'd like to add also that were it not for the show's cancellation, Betty's promotion would have been put on hold until the latter half of say season 5 or 6. 

It is such a shame the show ended so prematurely. If we did get that fifth season, I might have enjoyed it more than seasons 4 and 2. 

If there was one character that made the most progress on Ugly Betty in terms of character development, then arguably it would have to be Vanessa Williams's Wilhelmina Slater; yes she was evil and terrible and the villain of the piece, but it was interesting to see the different layers of this character unveiled. She has a dark side for sure, but like Marc she can be human & sympathetic, whenever and however she wants to be. Out of all the characters on the show, Wilhelmina was the one that made the biggest strides of all. Even if they weren't always in the best interests of other people. 

Other than that though, Ugly Betty's demise was sad and the manner in which the show had spiraled downhill, ever since season 1, was disappointing really. 

Even to this day, us fans can continue to blame ABC for cancelling the series outright (, and quite frankly it is something they shouldn't have done). But one must be kidding themselves into thinking this show was beyond perfect by any stretch of the imagination..... because it just wasn't. It had its flaws and the writers and the creator, Silvio Horta has to take responsibility for them.

I'm not going to take anything away from the performances of the cast; they all did a superb job in their respective roles. But insofar as to where I stand, for all its promises, programme-wise, Ugly Betty just didn't deliver the goods - and for that, its potential has been left unfulfilled. 

At best, this show is average or above average.

By Waiching

Season ratings (out of 10)

season 1 : 10
             2 :  4
             3 :  7
             4 :  5

Overall: 6 out of 10 

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