Ugly Betty (Thursdays at 8 PM on ABC) is a lovely little show. The charming America Ferrera’s Betty Suarez is smart, earnest, driven, forgiving, insecure, strong, vulnerable, and utterly engaging…and she is not, except by the shallow, myopic standards of the fashion industry she’s working in (and the equally myopic standards of the television world in which she exists), “ugly” at all (the gaudy grill of her braces…and her questionable fashion sense…notwithstanding J ).
Betty, an energetic and sunny girl from Queens, is willingly thrown into the shallow pool of haughty, self-absorbed fashionistas working at a high fashion magazine when the owner of the magazine forces his philandering son Daniel, the new editor, to take her as his assistant (Daniel has a habit of indulging trysts with his assistants…Dad figured he would keep his hands off the “unattractive” Betty.) Daniel is, at first, horrified to have Betty sitting outside his office representing him but he is quickly coming to realize that her wits and her bright personality are valuable assets (she has saved him from his own ineptitude more than once already.)
Ugly Betty is a lighthearted show and a lot of the characters are drawn in broad (almost cartoonish) strokes (Vanessa Williams, for example, seems to be channeling Cruella DeVil in her portrayal of the magazine’s creative director and alpha diva/bitch, Wilhelmina, who is fuming at having been passed over for the editor-in-chief job, and she’s deliciously over-the-top as she does do) but it is a note that, for the most part, works here. We know that, in the end, Betty’s innate goodness and intelligence will win out over the small, mean-spirited people looking down on her but it’s still almost impossible not to root for her…not to feel sad with her when she’s down…and not to smile and be warmed by her guileless, effortless humanity.
I’ve never seen Yo Soy Betty La Fea, the wildly-popular Columbian telenovela that is this show’s source material, but, judging by this delightful little show, I can see why the original would be so appealing and successful. I hope that Ugly Betty reaches towards those same heights here because it…along with Heroes…is one of the brightest and most entertaining new offerings of the 2006-07 network television season. (The most current episode is available for viewing online at ABC.com...see the link in the first sentence above.)