Ugly Betty's future looks pretty good
Airing 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Citytv
Many songwriters or storytellers have composed ballads or fables eulogizing inner beauty over the outer, superficial kind. For instance, Hans Christian Andersen's “The Ugly Duckling” easily comes to mind. “Meeskite,” a song from the Broadway musical “Cabaret” (performed by the great Jack Gilford) is based on a homely couple who give birth to a magnificently gorgeous child — thus proving, Gilford sings, that even though “you're not beautiful, it's true, there may be beautiful things in you.”
The heroine of “Ugly Betty,” as the title does considerably more than imply, is not by traditional or contemporary standards a raving beauty. However, she's a beautiful person just the same; and you might be raving once you meet her via the ABC series.
Although, an attractive woman in real life, America Ferrera, who plays Betty hides her looks behind bushy eyebrows, bad hair and shiny braces, and yet still emerges more lovelier than ever. She glows and simply lights the show up from within.
Not that Betty lacks for bright lights. Produced by Salma Hayek, this American adaptation of a popular telenovela revels in cartoon colours and emotions, from the Day-Glo orange office furniture to the out-of-scale misbehaviour of the supporting characters.
Its premise is also relatively simple. Bradford Meade (Alan Dale) is the head of a large publishing company. The famous editor of his high-fashion magazine Mode is killed in a fiery car accident (that's the secret). But the main story is that he has tabbed his son and heir, Daniel (Eric Mabius, “The L Word”), to take over the magazine, even though Daniel knows little else besides the art of seducing women.
Once it is clear that Daniel will try to sleep with every hot secretary he encounters, thus failing at his mission to run the magazine, Dad hires Betty. That way Daniel can focus on his work, because the conceit is that the plump and frumpy Latina (complete with braces, bad glasses, unstyled hair and no fashion sense) will not be an attraction to Daniel, who has feasted on the pack of slender fashionistas that litter the business.
Everyone is cruel to Betty. The pilot goes out of its way to embarrass herů still Betty always shines through (Ferrera really carries the load here). And soon Daniel realizes that she's exceptionally loyal, doesn't lie to him, cuts through his nonsense and has a thing for the magazine business (if not for style). Plus, Daniel will soon need Betty because conniving Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) is angling for the editor's job which she believes she deserved way before Daddy's boy was appointed.
Betty also finds support at home from her father (Tony Plana) and fiery sister (Ana Ortiz). Yet the relative who may prove most helpful is her young nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato), who's addicted to “Fashion TV” and The Devil Wears Prada.
Perhaps, what's most concerning is what tone the second will adopt (sweetness? a mixture of that and bitter snaps?) If it veers too far into “Desperate Housewives” territory, that hyper-reality would be hard to sustain. Better to keep Betty sweet...a force of nature that redefines beauty and busts the myth of fashion in the process.
Even with that mild caveat, “Ugly Betty” is worth checking out. It retains a charm that far outstrips expectations and Ferrera's performances are small wonders to behold.
Thus, it's no surprise ABC thinks “Ugly Betty” looks just fine and has picked up its second season. The new season of “Ugly Betty” began on September 27, on Citytv, and is expected to end in May 2008. The season's theme is “Brighter, Bolder, Bettyer,” with Mika's “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” being used as the featured song in its promos.