|Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season (2006)
Starring: America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Vanessa Williams, Alan Dale, Michael Urie, Becki Newton, Ashley Jensen, Ana Ortiz, Tony Plana, Mark Indelicato
Admit it: when you saw the promos for the new ABC dramedy “Ugly Betty,” the first thing you thought was “Gee, ‘The Devil Wears Prada: The Series.’ How original.” I don’t blame you, either, since I became a founding member of that party shortly after seeing the big-screen adaptation of the Lauren Weisberger novel. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered the show was actually a remake of the popular telenovela “Yo Soy Betty La Fea.” It makes sense that people would draw such a conclusion, considering the uncanny similarities between the two stories, but there are differences – namely in the female leads – that seem to confirm neither one was plagiarized. It’s exactly this separation between the two characters that makes “Ugly Betty” such a unique property, but despite a strong start as one of last season’s freshman surprises, the show's reliability on its soapish origins eventually drags it down.
America Ferrera stars in the unflattering role of Betty Suarez, a recent college grad who lands a job as the new assistant to Mode magazine editor-in-chief Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius) after his father (Alan Dale) decides his playboy son needs a change of scenery. Betty is certainly a departure from the usual buffet of size-0 supermodel assistants from Daniel’s past – she rocks a pair of thick red glasses, a clashing grill of blue braces, and owns the worst wardrobe on television. But she does have a few things the other girls didn’t: intelligence and determination. Not everyone at the Mode office is as accepting of the new hire, however, and when she’s not secretly plotting to take over the magazine, creative director Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) is forced to deal with the geeky overachiever. Her gay assistant Marc (Michael Urie) and his bratty officemate Amanda (Becki Newton) share Wilhelmina’s disapproval, but they’re much too busy selling their own souls to commit fulltime to terrorizing the ugly duckling from Queens.
In fact, Betty’s only true friend is the magazine’s seamstress, Christina (Ashley Jensen), a fellow loner who doesn’t quite belong in the cutthroat world of fashion, but still has aspirations to become a famous designer. She serves as the bridge between Mode and Betty’s home life, where all the real drama takes place. Between helping her older sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz) raise her son (Mark Indelicato) and deal with her father’s (Tony Plana) immigration problems, Betty serves as the surrogate mother of the house. All of a sudden, things such as losing The Book (the blueprints to the new issue) and scavenging the magazine’s closet become quite trivial in comparison to keeping the family together.
That isn’t to say that Mode doesn’t have its share of soap opera drama. The first season alone featured some pretty elaborate subplots involving a love interest for Daniel (played by executive producer Salma Hayek) and the big reveal of Wilhelmina’s mysterious accomplice, but as the season progresses, “Ugly Betty” continues to get more ridiculous by the minute. It’s almost as if the show is de-evolving into the very telenovela that Betty’s father watches at home all day, and though the arrival of Rebecca Romijn creates a nice distraction midway though the season, it’s hardly enough to make you forget about all the catfights and backstabbing that dominate the series. It’s no secret why “Ugly Betty” has become such a big hit: it airs right before “Grey’s Anatomy,” the reining king of primetime soap operas.
Special Features: While not entirely disappointing, the extras included on the six-disc DVD set are far from spectacular. Of the four audio commentaries that appear – “Pilot” (disc one), “Fey’s Sleigh Ride” (disc two), “Sofia’s Choice” (disc three) and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (disc five) – only the second track featuring actors Becki Newton and Michael Urie is worth listening to. If it isn’t already obvious from watching a few episodes, the two co-stars have an excellent rapport that makes for an entertaining commentary. Urie also teams up with his onscreen boss Vanessa Williams for the fourth and final commentary, but it isn’t nearly as dynamic. Rounding out the set is a making-of featurette (“Becoming Ugly”) that, despite it’s title, is not about transforming America into Betty; a special effects featurette on the use of green screen on the show (“Green is the New Black”); a quick look at the production and costume design for the series (“A La Mode”); 27 deleted scenes; and a three-minute blooper reel.