"Ugly Betty:" Been there, seen that, still funny

Oct. 4, 2006, midnight | By Priyanka Gokhale | 14 years, 4 months ago

New comedy is a pleasant addition to ABC's Thursday night

Betty Suarez is a fashion goddess. With her green, floor length poncho, red coke-bottle glasses and stylin' braces, she's well-equipped to teach the world a thing or two about trends. On the other hand...maybe not.

So, what is this clueless girl doing working at one of the country's most well-known fashion magazines?

This premise could be used to describe several recent films and books, including this summer's blockbuster "The Devil Wears Prada." But this time, the fashion dud is Betty Suarez (America Ferrrara), the star of ABC's newest show, "Ugly Betty." With Hollywood hotshot Selma Hayek on board as an executive producer, this cute show, based on a Colombian telenova (soap opera) titled "Betty La Fea," looks to lighten up this fall's line-up with a tale of fiascos on the fashion front.

After being rejected from a job at Meade, a magazine publishing house in New York City, Suarez returns home disheartened once again. Her moping is interrupted when her boyfriend Walter (Kevin Sussman) arrives at her Queens home, only to dump her for another girl.

When the phone rings, offering Suarez a job as the assistant to the newly named editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Mode, she eagerly accepts. Wearing a poncho best described as hideous, Suarez arrives at Mode, boldly stating to herself, "You are an attractive, confident, intelligent young woman," before tripping into a meeting room and thoroughly embarrassing herself in front of all of Mode's editors.

Suarez's new boss, editor-in-chief Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius) is a notorious playboy, who is appointed editor over the evil Wilhelmina, played by a stunning Vanessa Williams. Initially, Meade tries his best to force Suarez to quit in order to open the spot for a more attractive young woman. He asks her to get coleslaw without cabbage, makes her navigate New York City with cups of coffee and forces her to sit outside of his SoHo loft at night in order to notify him when his next nightly "companion" arrives.

But Suarez is not the only one battling work problems. Meade himself is struggling to fit into his father's shoes, while his backstabbing photographer friend and Wilhelmina, his supposed right hand woman, team up to ensure that his first attempt to produce a magazine is a failure.

Once Meade realizes the sabotage his job will face in the coming weeks, he begins to appreciate Suarez and consider her ideas. From then on, the Meade-Suarez team is formed, and it is clear that the duo will grow to become formidable partners in the coming episodes.

An idea unique to this show is Suarez's resistance to undergo the classic "transformation" into a stunning, fashion-clone beauty, nor does she lose her sense of self in the harsh fashion world. Since this is the only the pilot, things could change as the season progresses.

"Ugly Betty's" major drawback is the generally insipid acting by Ferrara and Mabius. As Suarez, she is extremely unoriginal, deriving herself from every other "innocent girl in a backstabbing world" role. Although she shows promise towards the end of the premiere, Suarez is neither evocative nor fresh for the majority of the episode. Mabius is much the same: trite in his "womanizing jerk with a surprising soft side" role.

Instead, the show is stolen by the plethora of side characters. Even characters who appear for only a few scenes make quite a hefty impression. Notable side roles include those by Justin (Mark Indelicato), Betty's girly nephew with a penchant for fashion who has quips like, "Fashion doesn't happen for people like us, unless you're like, JLo or something," and Hilda (Ana Ortiz), Betty's sister who cranks out lines like, "Honey, you're a boy, it doesn't matter if you're fat or not," directed to her son Justin.

Although "Ugly Betty" is nothing special, it's certainly fun. With light humor intermixed with romance and superficial drama, it's a refreshing break from the heavy, humorless dramas that headline the fall TV season and a must-watch on Thursday nights.

"Ugly Betty" airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Priyanka Gokhale. More »

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