Friday, September 29, 2006

Ugly Betty: The good, the bad and the ugly

With so much advance critical praise and positive word-of-mouth, Thursday night's premiere of Ugly Betty brought beautiful rating numbers for ABC. It drew 16.1 million people without piggy-backing on a big hit (though it was followed by the blockbuster "Grey's Anatomy") which made it the top rated debut series so far this season (I wonder what the demographic breakdown was).

In the age of YouTube, ABC is trying a new approach this year and allowing potential viewers who might have missed episodes of some of their shows like "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" (my current favorite) to watch them online - but only for a week after they have aired. This includes "Ugly Betty" so if you missed the first episode (or any future episodes) just go here a couple of days after that week's episode airs.

We certainly fretted about the debut in a previous post and expected to be let down (at first because we thought it would be impossible to translate Betty from its original Colombian television soap incarnation and then after the overwhelming advance praise since it was hard to believe the show would live up to the hype). So, how did it fare?

The good: America Ferrera is amazing! She IS the show and carries the true spirit of the original Betty. Also, most of the exteriors were actually shot in New York City (and Queens) instead of a make-up "NYC world" (see "Friends"). I also loved the character of Justin, Betty's 12 year-old nephew, who knows more about fashion and couture than any 12 year-old boy should truly know, unless... And then there are the telenovelas within the show which Betty's family always seems to be watching on their television set with producer Selma Hayeck vamping it up for laughs. Good stuff.

The bad: Vanessa Williams: I hate that the show has chosen to make one of the most beautiful and talented women in the United States such a hateful and bitchy villain. I also thought that it was a mistake to turn everyone else at the office into truly unlikable foes when, in the original, even the bad folks had a sweetness to them. Actress Lorna Paz (pictured above), for example, played a hilarious ladder-climbing "dyed-blond" secretary who would flip her long hair and have men fall at her feet (she can be seen flipping her hair here). She would splurge on high-commodity items such as a BMW and wear top-line clothing to make sure that she would look stunning and make people think she was high-class. But she'd always be borrowing money and, secretly, she wouldn't even pay her electricity bills (when inviting someone over, she'd light up a bunch of candles purportedly to 'set the mood' though the audience knew that without them her place would be dark).

We previously had said that some of the Betty re-makes lost something in painting their characters too broadly and robbing them of complex character traits and, at least in the pilot, the US version seems to have done this as well with the exception of Betty and, perhaps, her nephew.

The ugly: The humiliating scene in which Betty is asked to dress up for a fashion shoot was cruel, humiliating and unduly harsh. Gina Gershon's poodle-totting, silicon-lipped Italian caricature was humorless and distracting. The concept of a Mexican-family in Queens didn't quite congeal into a whole, and the actors playing them seem to be channeling members of totally different families. And, judging by previews of the next episode, they already will be cashing in on the popularity of "The Devil Wears Prada" with a storyline that seems directly lifted from the film.

OK, maybe some of that is not quite ugly but it certainly is somewhat disappointing. I'll keep watching thanks to America Ferrera and hope that, this being the pilot, future episodes will allow the other characters to breathe a little and hopefully become the great show that was promised. If only there was a little more Lorna Paz-ness.

A whole different take on the show at Miss Wild Thing's.

Other assorted takes:
  • Pop culture junkies ruminates even longer than I do here
  • I seem to have channeled some Good Nonsense here
  • TMZ has a video capture of the telenovela within the show here
  • TV Squad gets it right, right here


Blabbeando said...

No, it was a poorly worded phrase (what happens when you write something just before heading to bed). I should have said "gelled" instead of congeal (is congeal a word?) and I meant to say that the interaction between family members seemed a little forced.

miss wild thing said...

Yes congeal is a word, mostly used to talk about blood, like congealing blood. Clotting blood.

Disney has La Betty on Fridays if you don't catch it Thursday.

Lito Sandoval said...

i liked the show. in the scheme of american sitcoms, it was a breath of fresh air.

I did agree the family didn't gell as a unit for me. Tony Plana works my nerves for whatever reason. The 2 dynamic actors were the ones who played Betty and her nephew.

I think Vanessa Williams character woulda been more interesting to me if she was older and more in a vein of AbFab's Patsy, only competent.

I loved Gina's character. You could see she was enjoying it. Plus I loved that the whole Italian crew smoked.

Anyhoo...I hope it does well.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the clarification... I am also very intrigued about Justin's character. We are not saying it, and I know it's bad to stereotype, but the character is very gay, right? If so, it is one of the youngest gay characters I have ever seen on TV. It will be very interesting to follow his development.

Anonymous said...

Well i love betty la fea but then when they made the mexican version i couldnt stand it they just made it into a big joke n the way they talked ...Then the abc english version is good i just tho it would have been better off if they would have made it more like a colombian family in queens just to at least give back too the orginal....