TV Series Review
Betty Suarez was hired for her looks, though one glance at the laughably un-chic Plain Jane and you'd swear her boss needed another round of Lasik surgery. The cosmetically challenged girl from a working-class Queens family sticks out like polka-dots on plaid in a fashion industry where appearance is everything. Yet amidst all the superficiality on ABC's hit dramedy, Ugly Betty, it's easy to see the title character's inner beauty. Her show, on the other hand, has serious blemishes.
Back to that "hired for her looks" thing. To everyone's astonishment, Betty (played brilliantly by America Ferrera) becomes assistant to Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), the new editor of fashion bible Mode. It's a strategic move on the part of his father, Mode's owner (Alan Dale), who wants to make sure his playboy son concentrates more on running the magazine than on seducing his new assistant. After a rough start, Daniel and Betty realize they face similar obstacles (namely a diva fashionista plotting to take over the Meade empire) and resolve to watch each other's backs.
Ugly Betty's soapy plot is to be expected, given that the show is adapted from a wildly successful Colombian telenovela. On the bright side, messages about being oneself trump keeping up with the latest trend. Likewise, the impossible standards of the fashion industry get exposed and belittled. That's great, especially for young, self-conscious girls taking mental notes of what's hot and what's not.
However, certain accessories in this show's moral wardrobe clash with those positive statements. Sexual jokes. Cleavage-baring outfits. Lingerie-clad models. Meanwhile, a gay assistant offers Betty's young, fashion-conscious nephew advice on being "different." The pilot episode found Daniel receiving oral sex from an assistant hidden under his desk. Viewers have also run into mild profanity, witnessed a couple making out and glimpsed scenes from the Suarez family's favorite telenovela, a rather risqué TV program.
That's a real shame, both because of the series' family-hour time slot (where it averages 15 million viewers per week) and its refreshing inclination toward Cinderella storytelling. As the 22-year-old Ferrera notes, "This show is not about being ugly at all. More than anything it's just about looking past what you see. Achieving that image is not all that we're on this planet to do." Indeed, beauty is highly overrated, as Proverbs 31:30, Matthew 23:27 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 attest. But such honorable themes get tripped up on their stroll down the runway.
Episodes Reviewed: Sept. 28, Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26, 2006