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True beauty shines through in “Ugly Betty”

Cassie Belek | Monday, September 3, 2007

For a freshman series to achieve such tremendous success is rare, but it’s easy to understand when the show is as beautiful as “Ugly Betty.” Season One is 23 campy and colorful episodes of a series that was adapted from the Colombian telenovela “Betty la fea” by executive producers Silvio Horta and Salma Hayek.

Season One finds perky Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) from Queens adapting to a new environment of skinny stilettos and even skinnier co-workers and models when she lands an assistant job for new Mode editor-in-chief Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius). At first, Betty is judged for her unibrow and metal mouth, but Betty loves so deeply and thinks so positively that she becomes a true force to be reckoned with.

The success of the show can be traced to the humorous dichotomy between Betty’s work and home lives. Mode is cold, glamorous and catty while the Suarez home is warm, cluttered and loving. At Mode, Betty must ward off foes like fellow assistants Marc (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton) and the ice queen, Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams). Queens is her home andhaven with father Ignacio (Tony Plana), sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz) and nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato).

However, not everyone at Mode is merciless, and not everything at home is stress-free. Betty finds allies in boss Daniel, seamstress Christina (Ashley Jensen) and crush Henry (Christopher Gorham). Meanwhile, Betty must deal with a whole gamut of issues in Queens – she’s always in her pretty sister’s shadow, she can’t seem to hold on to her relationship with boyfriend Walter (Kevin Sussman) and her father suddenly reveals that he is an illegal immigrant.

The series strikes a perfect balance between Betty’s two worlds so that we never tire of the settings and characters. But as the season progresses and the two worlds become less and less mutually exclusive, Betty undergoes a transformation that confuses her and causes its own set of problems. She’s still that girl from Queens, but more and more Manhattan creeps into her everyday.

In the midst of all its one-liners and fashion crises, “Betty” confronts a variety of social issues not seen on many other series today – Betty’s father faces deportation, Justin is a young boy who may be gay, Marc struggles with coming out to his mother, and in the world of Mode, everyone must grapple with body image.

“Betty” isn’t flawless. As the season progresses, the episodes end on less and less positive notes. The comedy remains, but at times, “Betty” is consumed by darkness and drama. That warm, fuzzy feeling we used to get at the end of every episode becomes more rare, and some subplots are even yawn-worthy, but there is enough comedy and brightness in each episode to draw us quickly back in.

The DVD extras offer behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel. Disappointingly, only four episodes have audio commentary. For a show that’s achieved such success, there certainly could have been more to say about making individual episodes. However, to focus on the season’s shortcomings would be to miss its beauty and humor. “Ugly Betty” is one of the best series on television, and lead actress America Ferrera shines as a new role model for young girls.

As you might expect,”Betty” has all the camp of a typical run-of-the-mill telenovela, but its characters and situations are grounded firmly in reality. No character consists of just a one-dimensional stereotype, and the fact that we care for each one is a testament to the extraordinary talents of everyone involved with the show.

Just like its eponymous character, “Ugly Betty” is a fabulous and funny show, and with its first season finished the series is off to a beautiful start.