Over the last two months, I watched the entirety of Ugly Betty on Instant Netflix. I watched it here and there while it was on, and after watching the entire series, I’m kicking myself daily for not watching this while it was still airing. Without a doubt, this is one of the most meaningful, funniest, and smartest shows I have ever watched.
Adapted from the telenovela Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, Ugly Betty follows young, eager college grad Betty Suarez as she maneuvers her way through working at Mode (a fictional Vogue). Hired as the one assistant her boss, newly-minted editor-in-chief Daniel Meade (and son of the big boss Bradford Meade), wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with, Betty overcomes her insecurities and proves to everyone that, despite not looking like a traditional high fashion model, she knows what she’s talking about.
Betty is, without a doubt, one of the best characters who has ever been on television. She’s smart and unwilling to give up on her dreams, but she also recognizes when she needs to adjust her focus. She puts herself out there, knowing sometimes she might make a mistake, and she isn’t going to let anyone put her down for any reason. Over the course of four seasons, Betty changes and grows into a young career woman who never stops working to fulfill her dreams of being a magazine editor while remaining true to herself. In season four, Betty realizes that she has changed–a lot–but when she thinks about how far she’s come, she realizes that isn’t as bad as she thought it would be when she started at Mode. Facing adversity from every angle, she takes every opportunity and works tirelessly for herself and those around her. If there’s anyone I want to be like, it’s Betty Suarez.
And the greatness doesn’t stop with Betty–everyone around her is wonderful, too. Her biological family, with whom she lives, consists of her father Ignacio (Tony Plana), sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz) and nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato). They lost her mother to cancer a few years earlier and the four of them are incredibly close-knit. Hilda had Justin when she was still in high school, and he’s in high school by the end of the four years. Hilda and Betty have such a fantastic sister dynamic, as they grew up with Betty being “the smart one” and Hilda being “the pretty one.” They love each other so much, but that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with what they see as their inferiorities when compared to each other–and their growth from that over four years is beautiful.
Then there’s Betty’s work family, which is a whole other animal. Her best friend, designer Christina McKinney (Ashley Jensen), is one of the few other truly genuine characters on the show–her main flaw is allowing herself to be manipulated, though I would say it’s really more blackmail than manipulation. Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), editor in chief of Mode and Betty’s boss, grows from a rich playboy to a dedicated and informed editor, largely thanks to Betty’s pushes in the right direction. Mode creative director Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), is one of those characters you love to hate (I believe the phrase “hurts so good” applies to everything she does), but through the four seasons you come to understand just how hard she worked to get where she is and how strong she really is as a character. Of course, I’d be wrong if I didn’t mention Marc St. James (Michael Urie) and Amanda Tanen (Becki Newton), Wilhelmina’s assistant and receptionist (resp). Over the course of the show, they grow from being Betty’s main antagonists to being two of her closest friends, and we grow to really, really care about them, too. My love for Becki Newton’s physical comedy knows no bounds–that lady is a genius (and she’s currently on HIMYM as Quinn). And because I don’t want to give away any massive spoilers, I’ll just say that there are a few other key characters not mentioned here who are essential to the show and to Betty’s life.
And I’m not even going to get into Betty’s boyfriends here, other than to say that they are all wonderful and terrible, and her relationships run the gamut of emotions–that is, to say, they are all incredibly realistic in how the dynamics play out.
What I love about this show is that it tackles literally so many issues that other shows don’t even touch on. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, family tensions, dating tensions, the ramifications of teen pregnancy, sexism–the list goes on. The whole time I was watching the show, I couldn’t believe how far they pushed every envelope that came to them. There’s no subject they refused to tackle and they covered every single one of them with more wit and grace than I’ve ever seen on television. Under the guise of “Misfit girl finds her way at Fashion Magazine in NYC,” every episode of this show makes a point while still remaining true to the narrative. I’ve never seen a show with a more finely-tuned mixture of humor, intelligence, and seriousness, and there is literally no bad episode of this show.
Also, this show has some of the best guest stars I have ever seen. There are quite a few actors with short arcs who you would definitely know–Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Octavia Spencer, Max Greenfield, Jayma Mays, John Cho, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Eddie Cibrian, Lindsay Lohan, Gabrielle Union, Christine Baranski, AnnaLynne McCord, Lucy Liu, and so many more. And since Salma Hayek was an EP, she’s on the show in the first season and is stunning, as always.
I can’t think of a single thing to dislike about this show, and absolutely everything to love. If there’s a perfect show out there, this was it, and canceled far too soon.