ABC really perfected the art of the “dramedy” back in 2006. Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, and Ugly Betty were at the forefront of this wave, and I was an enormous fan of all four shows.
Ugly Betty isn’t a series that should work. But despite its ridiculous name and whacky premise, it’s a bonafide cartoon come to life. The story of a 22-year old go-getter who isn’t your typical kind of “attractive”, Betty Suarez lands a prestigious job at a top-notch fashion magazine. It’s your usual fish-out-of-water storyline, but the show makes it work thanks to a quirky tone and some stellar production values. When I say this show is very much like a “cartoon”, I’m not exaggerating; the cinematography and set design do such a creative job of making the show pop with its bright colors and glossy shine.
Now Ugly Betty wouldn’t work if America Ferrera wasn’t so perfectly cast as our heroine. Sure the show gives her a horrendous makeover so she can fit the title role, but Ferrera pours so much heart and soul into her performance that you cheer her on from the opening frames. The pilot alone throws a whole lot of misery at her, and yet she’s so resilient and lovable that you always root for Betty to succeed. Plus her chemistry with her new boss Daniel (played by Eric Mabius) works right off the bat. Who wouldn’t want to see an irresponsible playboy get schooled by humble little Betty?
Although she doesn’t get much to do in the pilot, Vanessa Williams gets some great moments as the show’s “baddie” Wilhelmina Slater. Over the course of the show’s four seasons, Williams is spectacular as the villainess, and I vividly remember eagerly awaiting her appearances every week just to witness her dastardly plans. Her minion Marc (amusingly played by Michael Urie) is also a hoot, while Becki Newton delivers a brief but hysterical turn as Mode receptionist Amanda Tanen. The sharp-tongued blonde gets a lot more screen-time going forward, but her one-liners here are just unforgettable (see below).
Bits From Mode
– Betty slamming into the door during that big meeting is one of those iconic shots you never forget (alongside that red poncho).
– Fabia is definitely a caricature of Donatella Versace right?
– Wilhelmina and the botox – priceless. Naturally, Marc gets to keep the “leftovers”.
– There’s a hint of an overall mystery with Mode’s former Editor-In-Chief Fey Sommers dying and the possibility of Bradford Meade being behind it. Also, Daniel’s brother is dead too. Hmm…
– The montage with Daniel forcing Betty to do demeaning tasks is kind of over the top, but at least it gets the job done. The moment where she has to step in for the test photoshoot is appropriately heartbreaking.
– Walter cheating on Betty with Gina is really aggravating isn’t it? But that’s what makes the plasma TV crash so satisfying!
– The Suarez family dynamics are spot on. Ana Ortiz (Hilda) Tony Plana (Ignacio) and Marc Indelicato (Justin) are all first-rate. There’s a real homey feeling to all those moments that balances out Mode’s superficiality.
– Although it’s obvious that Betty will save the cosmetics account with her “idea”, the show executes the whole storyline pretty effortlessly. Our girl is definitely destined for big things!
– Wilhelmina meets with a mysterious figure at the end. Is it Fey Sommers? The show sure wants us to believe that.
– If you’re a fan of American Ferrera, be sure to check out Superstore – one of the finest comedies on the air.
Barbs & Betty
Betty: I know most of your magazines inside out. I try to devour as much as I can.
Amanda: You the “before”?
Amanda: Before and after? The photo shoot…
(Betty is confused)
Amanda: Are you DELIVERING something?
Wilhelmina: What? I’m hellaciously upset. Purge this from memory, please.
Amanda: Yeah, we went out for, like, a week. And they don’t call him “the tripod” because he’s a photographer, if you catch my drift.
Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall
Vibrant and endearing, this pilot is a truly great start to the show!