[10 December 2009]
I am done with Ugly Betty.
It’s been a long time coming, but this week was finally the week I called time on my two-year relationship with this soap opera set in the fashion dynasty of Mode. For a long time, Ugly Betty was the staple of my Friday nights. Yes, it was saccharine and Betty was irritating, but I put up with it anyway. However, halfway through the third season, I decided that enough was more than enough. The pros—the wonderful performance of Michael Urie, the divine comic duo that was Mark and Amanda, Judith Light as matriarch Claire—were vastly outweighed by the cons. At the risk of sounding childish and immature, I do not see how America Ferrera could possibly have won an Emmy. Her performance is mediocre at best (although the one-note and holier-than-thou attitude of her character does not help matters). There are brilliant comic actresses on TV, and Ferrera is just not one of them. The writing has descended further and further into the black hole that is soap opera.
Of course, wasn’t Ugly Betty always a soap opera? Albeit one with highbrow intentions–Betty’s heavy-handed moralising at the end of every episode is a glaring clue–but a soap opera nonetheless? To which I would respond: yes, of course. By the same token, though, the show was gloriously, wordlessly entertaining. The memory of femme fatale Sofia Reyes (Salma Hayek) ensnaring Daniel Meade only to play him at his own game is still a fond one. The storyline of Fey Sommers’ “murder” was a wild ride, even as it spiraled into ludicrousness. Yet Ugly Betty has continued on another kind of spiral: a downward one.
Betty and Dr. “Thirteen” Hadley of ‘House’ (Olivia Wilde) are now in fierce competition for Most Irritating Female Character on TV. At the present moment, Betty is winning. Her heavy-handed moralising—mentioned above—has now become a series of obnoxious tirades. Characters do 180s in order to give the ending of episodes the “awwww” factor. Storylines are painfully anticlimactic. There is no driving force behind the story anymore. Although I do not believe that every TV show needs a mystery, I think Ugly Betty is one of the few that do. The questions thrown up by the Fey Sommers mystery were consistently intriguing and gave the story some sort of direction. It was also nice to escape the messy tangle of characters’ love lives, even if only for a brief period of time. The mystery of who pushed Christina (Ashley Jensen) could have been a nice little arc for the serious. Alas, it was not to be. The mystery was wrapped up in one episode, and we were pulled back to the eternal repetition of forced character development and not-very-scandalous scandal.
Perhaps this was always going to be the way for Ugly Betty. Perhaps its credibility-stretching premise was doomed to die a slow and painful death once they hit a sophomore slump. Or perhaps I am an intellectual snob for whom this series was not created. I don’t know.
I’ll finish this post with a toast. To the Ugly Betty that was and the comic wonder of Becki Newton and Michael Urie; may you soon venture into pastures green!