I’m just gonna come out and say it: I LOVE Ugly Betty. It’s my feel-good show, and it certainly is NOT a guilty pleasure, because there is nothing guilty about it at all. I feel like it’s one of those very underrated TV shows that no one really gave enough credit to, because the premise sounds pretty silly (yes, Jane the Virgin, I’m looking at you). I mean, you hear there’s a show about an ‘ugly’ girl who is propulsed into an assistant job at a fashion magazine and you scream ‘CLICHÉ’ at the top of your lungs. But believe me, this show is not a cliché; it makes fun of the clichés.
- First of all, the title character is SO much more than just an ‘ugly girl with a big heart’. Betty is not a trope, she is a fully-formed, complex character who does not apologize for who she is. I have talked about how Jane’s virginity does not define her, despite being the title of the show. Well, same goes for Betty: the title puts it out there and kind of gets it over with. Alright, we know she’s not magazine-pretty, now let’s move on. Betty *knows* that she does not have the style that people expect her to have, and she *knows* she looks slightly unconventional. But does she care? Nope. Within a couple of episodes, and by the time she has shown up at work in her butterfly costume for Halloween, you realize that Betty does not indulge in shame or embarrassment. She has better things to do with her time, like being a kick-ass assistant and attempting to shatter the glass ceiling, for instance. Then, it’s important to point out that, despite her unconventional looks, Betty is NOT a loser in the love department. She has several boyfriends throughout the series, and she even has 2 men fighting over her at some point. Betty is not a walking ‘ugly girl with a heart of gold’ stereotype, and she is not a perfect person deep inside. Yes, she can be too nice, and she always has her loved ones’ backs, BUT she is also occasionally envious -she takes pleasure in her older sister’s misery at times- and an opportunist -she does not hesitate to betray Daniel for her dad to be able to stay in the US (although I agree that someone’s immigration status is more important than a lot of petty issues that Daniel has). There’s a lot of moments when Betty is the perfect friend, daughter, sister, aunt, assistant. But there are also moments when she lets herself be selfish, and that’s okay.
- There is a tremendous amount of character development in this show. Betty, of course, grows up a lot over the 4 seasons. Let’s not forget she was only 23 in Season 1! But there’s also Daniel, originally a pretty flat character, destined to be a playboy who got his job through nepotism. Sure, even towards the end, Daniel is not a model of selflessness, but you can see how much he cares about his family, and about Betty.
What a wonderful career path.
Despite what this scene might suggest, Daniel does not stand in Betty’s way and he is rooting for her more and more as the seasons go by. Throughout the whole show, I appreciated how Betty and Daniel were portrayed as genuine friends, without any possible ambiguity (not because Daniel is out of Betty’s league, but because there is no MUTUAL attraction). It would have been too easy to write the two characters into a nonsensical affair: the ugly girl becomes pretty, and BAM, the hot guy suddenly is interested in her. The very last episode of the show suggests that *SPOILER ALERT* Daniel has been having feelings for her, and it is implied that they do go on a date. So, did they decide to end the show on a cliché note? I personally don’t think so. First of all, the power dynamics have changed: Betty is now the boss, and Daniel is interviewing to be HER assistant. Betty is no longer the braces-clad, poncho-wearing awkward girl of the first season, BUT her transformation was progressive and subtle, and it wasn’t a makeover. It was more like maturation, and Betty still looks like Betty. Daniel is interested in her because he has evolved, and she has evolved. He is no longer the looks-obsessed brat he used to be, and Betty is no longer the naive kid she used to be. They are two adults who are best friends, and who *might* turn into something more, but off-camera.
- Family is a huge component of this show. Betty has an adorable dad, Ignacio, a hilarious and hot sister, Hilda, and an awesome nephew, Justin. They are a tight family -for about 2 seasons, they all live under the same roof in Queens-, but they are also not picture-perfect. Their relationship feels real, because they get on each other’s nerves, and yet they always support each other. It always warms my heart when a good-intentioned Ignacio plans a very tacky coming out party for Justin after they all find out he has a boyfriend. It’s not the right move, it’s over-the-top, it’s not his place to choose the moment when his grandson comes out, but you know it comes from a place of love.
Betty’s family is not the only interesting one in the show, either. The Meades have had their share of drama, but at the end of the day, they also have each other’s backs. Claire Meade, Daniel’s mom, is my personal favorite, because she is played by the amazing Judith Light, whom I have loved dearly since Who’s the Boss. But Rebecca Romijn also gets a special mention as Daniel’s sister Alexis. Alexis, a transgender woman, fakes her death in order to undergo her transition, and comes back as the woman that she is, without her family knowing at first. The plot is very telenovela-esque -do you sense a pattern in my interests?-, but it also hides very heartfelt messages. Let’s not forget that the show was made in 2006, and the way that it tackles transgender identity is not *really* dated, for something that was written 10 years ago. We see Alexis’ dad struggle with accepting his daughter as a woman, but Alexis is never made fun of, or misgendered by the main characters. We get a glimpse of Alexis’ body image issues that are related to her transition and her dating life, and when a guy in a bar calls her a freak, Wilhelmina punches him in the face, clearly antagonizing him. Transgender identity is not the focus of the show, but it is treated as a legitimate, complex topic instead of making a joke out of it.
- Speaking of Wilhelmina, she is a wonderful character. This show has a lot of wonderful characters, but it is almost impossible to NOT mention her. Vanessa Williams is always perfection, and it looks like Wilhelmina is the role she was born to play.
She might be the villain for most of the show, TECHNICALLY. Yes, she is a scheming bitch, and all she wants is to take Daniel down. But much like Petra on Jane the Virgin, she is a loveable villain. She’s strong, she’s funny, she’s driven, and she might be selfish, but she also sees the potential in other people. She never underestimates Betty, and she pretty much embodies female empowerment.
Let’s end on this gif, shall we?