Monday, June 1, 2009

Finishing Up The Season: Ugly Betty

When most people were lavishing “Ugly Betty” with exuberant praise during its freshman season, I had written it off because I hadn’t found the pilot terribly enjoyable. Upon revisiting the series premiere during a television history course, I decided that I did in fact like this show. I sped through the first two seasons last summer, and followed the series on a regular basis each week during the fall. This spring, I couldn’t keep up and opted to finish the season in a ten-episode marathon block last week. For the past two years, people have been decrying the creative downfall of “Ugly Betty.” I don’t agree – I don’t think “Ugly Betty” has really experienced a drop in quality from its humble beginnings.

My contention about “Ugly Betty” is that its real strength lies in all the supporting characters. I’ve loved both Amanda (Becki Newton) and Marc (Michael Urie) from the first moment, as well as sympathetic characters Hilda (Ana Ortiz) and Christina (Ashley Jensen). Ignacio (Tony Plana) and especially Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams) have grown on me quite a bit in the past few years, and though I liked him in the beginning, Daniel (Eric Mabius) has really come very far as a character and matured, not just due to his first adult relationship but additionally because of his rapport with Betty.

This year, more than any other, the dynamics of all the characters were what really carried “Ugly Betty.” Betty teamed up with Marc numerous times throughout the season for the grander purpose of succeeding in YETI. The relationship between Betty, Marc, and Amanda is especially amusing, and I’m always up to see more of that. The most wonderfully surprising occasionally amicable team was that of Daniel and Wilhelmina, who were quite hilarious in their attempts to appear poor by trying to pay with a credit card and a fifty-dollar bill, respectively, while riding the NYC public bus. The core cast has always been terrific, and the addition of throwaway recurring romances like Matt or Molly shouldn’t be the core focus of reviews of the shows.

“Ugly Betty” has still been thoroughly entertaining this year, and the only area in which it’s somewhat weak is the predictable nature of the series. If there’s one thing “Ugly Betty” is not, it’s subtle. At the beginning of every episode, it’s clear where things are headed: obviously, the topic of conversation at Matt’s mother’s party will be changed, and Ignacio is going to suddenly realize that he can try out for the chef’s cooking challenge. It’s not an enormous problem since “Ugly Betty” has always been unapologetically loud, but it is rare that there’s a huge surprise in store anywhere that hasn’t been extensively previewed throughout the episode.

This season has, again, been entertaining. Against all my expectations, Wilhelmina, who I used to find overdone and dumb, has become one of my favorite characters. Her one-liners are biting and her character is so marvelously over-the-top that it’s hard not to love her. Marc’s constant devotion and her droll responses to his affection are funny, but Wilhelmina also managed to show emotions this year, with her fading fame and her fading flame, Connor. My favorite Wilhelmina moment from this season is still something comic – when Claire tells Daniel and Wilhelmina to stop bickering and she responds, “Yes, Daniel, stop bickering.”

Betty’s own problems this year have been on-and-off, with YETI often providing a bit too much to handle in terms of believability and turned out to be rather repetitive. Nonetheless, YETI still was a great journey for Betty, and allowed for some great plotlines. Having Amanda as a roommate was great because we got to see more of Amanda, which is always a good thing. In the end, Betty’s heart is the winning heart of this show, and her essentially single-handed saving of Mode is terrific. Matt didn’t blow me away as a character, boring me almost to death, whereas Henry’s reappearance seemed like it might spark something great.

Instead, next season will probably feature Matt in a different mode (no pun intended), seeking revenge on Betty for thinking of cheating on him with Henry. Cal Hartley’s not exactly a likeable character, with the reach and means of Bradford Meade mixed with a less entertaining cunning than Wilhelmina, and seeing Matt turn into Cal should be tough. Overall, however, we know that Matt’s a good guy, and I don’t think Betty will rush into anything with Henry, so ultimately I think they could become friends, or he’ll just disappear, like what happened with Gino. Wilhelmina will remain a powerful thorn in the Meade family’s side, but I think that Mode, as it currently is, should remain a great place to be.

Season finale: B
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Vanessa Williams

1 comment:

Beatrice B said...

I agree with most of this. What do I expect? I also think the Hartley's will play a bigger role at least for the start of next season and Daniel Eric Gold will be made a regular (which is a shame... I really wish they bring back Gio Rossi... Matt Hartley is an insipid choice for a love interest or even as a supporting character).