"Ugly Betty"-Palooza

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 20, 2006

I confess that I’m a couple episodes behind in “Ugly Betty,” but it’s not for lack of enthusiasm about the groundbreaking show. (TiVo’s big appeal is that you can save episodes to watch later, but sometimes later turns into, well, late. Thank goodness there’s a long weekend coming up!)

But I’ve seen enough to know that this series is worth celebrating, on multiple levels. And Chicago Tribune television critic Maureen Ryan addresses all of them in a “Betty”-palooza, a long-ish feature about the creation of the series plus additional stories and interviews with cast members. In the main piece Ryan writes:

It’s not just that a curvy Hispanic woman with thick eyebrows is starring in a broadcast network hit, though that is stunning. But this is a season of surprising developments. […] Could it be that networks are stepping outside their comfort zones of cops, lawyers and docs and may be on the verge of offering us fun, quirky, just plain different characters? Let’s hope so.

Even if that doesn’t happen, the success of “Ugly Betty” is heartening, not just because the show is a touching dramedy with a starmaking performance by America Ferrera at its center. It’s also a thrill because the show is chock-full of things that just aren’t done on TV – or usually aren’t done well.

Until Betty and her desperately un-chic “Guadalajara” poncho swooped into the snooty offices of Meade Publishing, we rarely, if ever, saw clashes of class and culture like the one we’re seeing now between the highest echelons of Manhattan society and this lower-middle class resident of Queens – a clash in which, by the way, neither side is necessarily held up as the gold standard.

We rarely saw a chick-friendly aspirational drama in which the prize is not a guy, but respect in the workplace. And how many family dramas do we see in which characters struggle to afford their medication and talk about immigration issues that affect them directly?

As Eric Mabius, who plays Betty’s magazine editor boss, said, “Betty is redefining the entire paradigm on her terms.”

And that’s made television fun again.

Fellow fans will certainly appreciate this palooza. And if you haven’t yet sampled “Ugly Betty,” hopefully you’ll be convinced that it’s worth setting your clock to — or programming your TiVo.

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