by Heather Newberger
While casually clicking through ABC.com, I came upon Ugly Betty, a poorly titled new show that premiered earlier this year. Though I adore the new ABC.com features, I was quickly horrified by my findings: a car crash of a show I was unable to tear my eyes away from.
The show stars Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), a young woman fresh out of college whose only dream is to work in the magazine business. It becomes increasingly clear that what Betty has in enthusiasm, she lacks in looks. Although petty, this is the entire premise of the show.
Betty is lovable, but ugly. How can she ever survive in the real world?
In the very first scene of the pilot episode, Betty applies for a position at Meade Magazines, the largest magazine conglomerate in the show’s faux New York City (which looks more like Havana, Cuba). Quickly turned away, pre-interview by an assistant who rhetorically asks, “You just can’t be here for the assistant position?” it’s clear that Betty is judged simply on her braces and poor fashion sense. Losing all hope, Betty wallows from her poor interview until her boyfriend (Kevin Sussmam) gives her something worse to complain about: breaking up with her to date the slutty, but more attractive, Gina Gambarro (Ava Gaudet). Betty, the show screams, is unattractive. And unattractive people will never get what they want.
Luckily, Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), son of Meade Magazine’s founder, and the head of Meade’s fashion impint Mode, has a habit of sleeping with his assistants. Father Bradford Meade tries to get Daniel in line by hiring a new unattractive assistant—Betty. This, Bradford feels, will get his son back on track. Not only is this an uncomfortable situation, but it clearly states that “ugly” people can only get jobs out of pity or random chance.
This series of events kicks off Betty’s experience in the fashion world. Working to make a commentary on the devilish attitudes of fashion executives and how they beat down the lovable personalities of those like Betty, the show does a poor job of getting its message across. The show spends more than the allotted amount of time trying to garner sympathy for Betty’s sad state, even dressing her in leather for a scene that further embarrasses not only Betty, but viewers.
Audience members will find themselves so wrapped up in Betty’s pathetic circumstances that they’ll forget to find the hidden meaning of the show—although she is a braces-wearing twenty-something, Betty’s not only smart but head strong. Betty is confident even though she’s inadequate, which is exactly why you, the viewer, should feel confident too. You are better than her.
At this point, the shrieking undertones of inadequacy begin to make your skin crawl, and these sentiments are exactly what keep viewers, like myself, away. The shows doesn’t even try to touch the issue of race—the office is entirely white besides a light-skinned Vanessa Williams, playing the devilish Wilhelmina Slater; Betty is the only Latino. The concept that “Ugly is the New Beautiful” is so lost in the flashy set and unfortunate circumstances, that any type of positive message is lost as well. Sure Betty can stand up for herself, but she’s also desperately unhappy.
But whose fault is that?