Friday, January 05, 2007

My New Favorite TV Show: Ugly Betty

I'm the kind of person who rarely has a casual relationship with a TV show- if I find a show I like, I become completely hooked. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I often end up scheduling my workouts, social events and homework around those shows, which is why I rush to change the conversation if someone tells me that they found a new show that they think I'd love. Adding another show to my rotation (which is pretty small and manageable for now) would make efforts to get work done, stay in shape and still see friends nearly impossible.

On Thanksgiving day, I watched with confusion as my parents rushed from their messy kitchen at exactly 7:59 to turn on ABC. Ugly Betty was on, a show I'd heard a few good things about, and seeing as I was so stuffed with turkey that I could barely move, I decided to stick around and watch the episode.

Naturally, I was hooked. It was like the creators had me in mind when they devised the show, so many aspects resonate with my own interests, experiences and values. I assume that for those who haven't seen the show, you're at least familiar with the premise, but if you aren't, you can read a summary of the series (with no spoilers), you can read it here. The show combines elements from "Devil Wears Prada", such as all the catty, behind the scenes drama of a top fashion magazine, with the story of "real woman" Betty, a born and bred Queens girl from a struggling immigrant family.

Though it would've been easy to make Betty and her family stereotypes of working class Mexican-Americans, their characters are wonderfully real and treated with dignity. Their intelligence, sense of humor, quirkiness and love for each other is a great contrast to the cruel and superficial stick figures that populate the fashion magazine where Betty's employed. When her co-workers harass her for not looking right, but instead like a normal-sized woman with a hilariously bad sense of fashion, Betty never fails to stand up for herself, and her kindness, strong sense of self and work ethic eventually earn the grudging respect of everyone at the office (even if they'd never admit it).

The show is in many ways a comedic commentary on the influence of fashion magazines on women, and it's great to watch Betty and the few other regular women in the office fighting back against editors who want to photoshop every model and actress until they look like carbon copied versions of their ideal woman. There's an ugly flipside to the "aspirational living" aspect of fashion magazines, and the show explores that without getting preachy.

The acting is fantastic across the board. If you've ever seen "Real Women Have Curves" (if you haven't, definitely rent it), you know how talented and likable the actress America Ferrara is. Salma Hayek kicks ass as an editor at a sister publication who takes Betty under her wing. It's great to see a female character who's intelligent, sexy and strong enough to take on even the cockiest man. And Vanessa Williams gives a great performance as an Anna Wintour-esque diva editor who is trying to make up for years of putting her ambitions and career ahead of her family. All of the central female characters are confident, successful, empowered women, which is so refreshing on television.

With most of my friends from home out of town this past week, I've caught up on all the previous episodes I missed, thanks to ABC's website, which has every past episode available for free here. If you haven't seen the show, give the first couple of episodes a chance. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn't fallen in love with Betty.


Anonymous said...

ABC advertised this show so much that I was so excited to see it when it premiered a few months ago... I'm afraid to say it didn't live up my expectations. I thought [the first episode] was a total rip off of The Devil Wears Prada, a movie I adored. I gave the show another chance a few weeks later, but the "humor" is so dry and everything, especially Betty herself, is so awkward to watch. I understand that many people love this show, but I just wanted to say something when you said you don't know a single person who doesn't love it. I don't. But I should and probably could. Maybe it's because I still see America Ferrara as that girl from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Meg said...

Hey Anon- I appreciate your comment, and I know where you're coming from. The show definitely has it's flaws- the humor is sometimes a little obvious or dumbed down, and there are plenty of unrealistic events and situations. I had my boyfriend watch it for the first time yesterday and he thinks it's only okay. I watched all the episodes out of order, and I agree that the first episode just isn't that great, but there definitely are others that are.

I'm willing to overlook some of the show's shortcomings because a. network tv shows (especially comedies) are usually so crappy, b. the acting in the show is great, and many of the characters are just a lot of fun to watch, and c. I really love the underlying message of the show, especially for young women.

I'm happy that you commented though, I was probably a little overenthusiastic in my post, and the show is far from flawless. And I also appreciate that you were willing to disagree with me in such a respectful way.