Ugly Betty (Season Three) – A Review

“Get Ready for Betty”

Ugly Betty enters its third season on a familiar trajectory. The first season being a breakout hit, the second kind of wobbling (partly because the writers hadn’t fully thought through the second season as they were too busy surviving the first; partly due to the writer’s strike), and the third season being a make or break kind of season as the show tries to re-coup some of its lost viewers. The fashion world backdrop of Ugly Betty continues with its fascination with physical beauty and style even as the eponymous lead character, Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), continues to evolve.

We still have some of the ridiculous office shenanigans as Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) schemes for power and the Meades—mostly in the form of matriarch Claire Meade (Judith Light) and heir apparent Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius)—try to maintain the reins of control of Mode magazine. Daniel also attempts to balance his “just wanting to have fun” mentality with the realities of being a new father. Betty’s sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz) is still dating the married coach and after the grief of losing Santos. Throw in the comings and goings of the other superficial Mode employees and we have a cast of mostly twenty and thirty something teenagers, people who are emotionally in their teens but in big people’s bodies.

“I’ve created a plan for myself.” –Betty

Betty has returned from a trip around the country and has returned to New York, and Mode Magazine, rejuvenated and with an agenda. She wants to be about experiencing things: change, growing up, and discovering herself. Armed with her “empowerment animal” (a dove, symbol of her feminine energy), she braces herself for new challenges as she seeks her independence. She has even made a life checklist: 1) more responsibility at work, 2) get her own apartment in New York City, 3) no more romantic entanglements. Well, two out of three isn’t bad as Betty has to deal with her romantic entanglements with Henry Grubstick (Christopher Gorham), Giovanni ‘Gio’ Rossi (Freddy Rodríguez), Jesse (Val Emmich), and Matt (Daniel Eric Gold).

“I can fix this.” –Betty

It’s funny: we come into the world completely dependent on them (and our parents know EVERYTHING); we start to make noises of independence and doing things our way (and our parents know NOTHING); and then we start to brave the world by ourselves (and our parents know SOME things after all). But at some point we have to try to get our crap together. We can’t be afraid to change and grow and cutting the apron strings is a rite of passage as you carve out your own direction. It’s about growing up, dealing with the decisions you’ve made, and picking yourself up no matter how many bowls of ramen noodles you have to eat in the process.

“It gets better.” –Betty

Even our spiritual journeys hit bumps as we mature, with the journey inward being part of the progress. Some people compare this time to God actually “giving” you more responsibility by not guiding you by the hand any more. Allowing us room to go and explore where we need to go, but continuing to be present or being a guard rail. The signs of maturing include an increase in humility and teachability; the acknowledgment of the need for help.

Ugly Betty rights itself with season three, after the lamentable season two. There’s a less over-the-top quality to Season Three, as it has found its footing. Less ridiculous and more natural feeling storylines, less celebrity cameos, and a less one-note quality to many of the characters. Betty remains a fantastically lovable character, strong, capable, and independent; living in “BettySuarezland” which isn’t such a bad place to be.

Ugly Betty (Season One) – A Review

“It’s all about appearance.” –Daniel

Ugly Betty was one of those shows I was late on the bandwagon about (read: I played catch up during the writer’s strike). Produced by Salma Hayek, this is an adaptation of a popular telenovela for stateside viewing.

“I can’t walk in there looking like me.” –Betty

Self-consciously unfashionable Betty Suarez had a dream of working for a fashion magazine. Through a series of events, magazine mogul Bradford Meade (Alan Dale) has just turned Mode over to his playboy son, Daniel (Eric Mabius), who quickly finds himself in over his head. Betty ends up getting hired as an assistant (so that Daniel wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with his assistant). With Betty being so constantly sweet and wise, America Ferrera saves the show from her character’s earnestness. Her own beauty hidden behind braces, bad hair, and bushy eyebrows, she charms us with this fish out of water tale.

Our over the top hero, too adorable, too good, too endearing, is buoyed by her family and persecuted by her co-workers, often finding herself in the inadvertent crosshairs of her equally over the top villainess boss, Vanessa Williams. Playing wicked step-mother to Betty’s Cinderella, Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater would be a hammy performance in lesser hands.

“They have a way of taking the truth, twisting it around. We always have to protect ourselves. Twist it around ourselves if we need to.” –Daniel

The American culture has an unnatural predilection with beauty, usually missing the point of what true beauty is. We have reduced beauty to surface matters, not thinking twice about being retouched, computer enhanced, reimagined through surgery in order to achieve the makeover of our false selves. We’ve reduced beauty to that with is merely pretty, setting cruel standards (impossible thinness and youth), the endless pursuit of which changes us and our definitions of beauty.

“Then maybe your concept of what’s beautiful is a little narrow.” –Betty
There is truth and goodness in beauty, one that we recognize without having to be told (much less needing it plastered all over magazine covers). Beauty should touch a primal chord within us, captivate us, and spur us to adoration, even worship. I’m reminded of what Rich Vincent said in his article The Beauty of Holiness – The Holiness of Beauty:

To worship is to experience and express divine beauty. When we participate in beauty we come into the presence of the Holy. All the beauty found in nature and human art reflects God’s glory and shows us something about God. Therefore, “Whenever we awaken beauty, we are helping to make God present in the world.” Conversely, “those who destroy the beauty of God’s creation or who create ugliness may be sinning against the Holy Spirit.”

Sometimes it takes a spiritual eye, a discerning eye, to truly appreciate beauty. A spiritual perception of glory, the loveliness of holiness, and the preciousness of grace … all the things that come with being created in God’s image. All beauty reflects its source, namely, God. When we experience beauty, we experience God. When we create beauty, we reveal God to others. Or as Rich put it:

To know God is know beauty; to know beauty is to know God. Just as God is the source of all truth and goodness, God is also the source of all beauty. God is the Supreme Artist – the Creator of all. Thus, everything that is beautiful reflects God’s artistry. Indeed, God is Beauty itself.

Ugly Betty has a campy quality to it, much like the telenovelas Betty’s father, Ignatio (Tony Plana) watches. While the cast of characters are little more than a collection of stereotypes, they are humanized by solid performances. The show careens unevenly during the course of the season, as if the show wasn’t confident about itself (Daniel alone seems to undergo several personality changes over the run of episodes). However, juggling romance and mystery, the writer’s may not be used to painting in broad strokes. The show, and Betty in particular, grow on you to the point of overlooking its few missteps.