What is it that is so charming about ABC’s Ugly Betty? Is it that its star, the sincere America Ferrera is too adorable to resist, despite the show’s ironic title? Is it that we so very rarely see a Latina heading up a prime time television series, and thus, we want to like it? Or is it that, like all hit shows on TV, something about it just works?
Ugly Betty has gotten off to a promising start, ratings wise. If its numbers continue to rise, there will be a new trend in prime time. And, frankly, it’s about time something fresh broke through the membrane of crime shows, reality shows and talk shows. Ugly Betty, bring it on.
Ugly Betty is an American remake of a wildly popular Columbian telenovella. There was some question as to whether American audiences would take to it. But, it turns out, The Beast does have a brain when it wants to. Ugly Betty is probably not only going to be a hit, but a phenomenon.
The first episode of Ugly Betty seems like a rip-off of the latest Meryl Streep movie, The Devil Wears Prada, but indeed, it is far from it. Sure, it’s a fashion-backwards girl in a sea of fashionistas. But Ugly Betty fixes exactly what was wrong with Prada. We never cared why the girl would bother with a job she hated and felt was beneath her.
Not so with Betty. Magazines are Betty’s life. She wants nothing more than to work for one. But one look at her braces, her poncho and her hair, and Betty is not even a consideration for the job. But because her TV boss’ father wants his son to be a respectable editor, not just some womanizing idiot, he forces his son to hire Betty. Betty, of course, proves herself an asset to the company.
Betty would be an asset to any company – any family, any school, any government – her optimistic demeanor, her strength, her earnestness would be welcome anywhere. That she chooses to bestow her beauty upon a world of toads is a miracle in and of itself.
Much of the show’s success is due to its talented lead. Ms. Ferrera first burst onto the scene in the cult hit, Real Women Have Curves. Her career was launched by not only playing against type, but relishing being different. She was the standout in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, in which she played a forgotten daughter of a father going on with his new family and life.
Ferrera, in fact, has carved out her own little genre – and it’s possible no other actress would have been able to pull of Betty. It seems tailor-made for this girl. She plays, for the first time, really, a non-angry outsider – someone who doesn’t seem to get or accept why people reject her. It is to her credit that she manages to do this without making herself seem pathetic; rather, the jerks she encounters seem that much weaker.
Listen, ladies, we needed a character like this in prime time. Our daughters needed it. In this era of celebrity worship, where young girls get attention for nothing so much as having large breasts, it is important to remember that there is room on television and in film for the other story – the story of the majority of women out there who don’t see themselves when they turn on the television. And, in fact, we wish we saw ourselves in Betty. In fact, she makes us all look like slackers.
Ugly Betty can be seen Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.