Disney is really coming for everyone’s weave. After a huge buy a few years ago gaining the rights to FOX, they’re back at their old tricks. Recently, Disney+ joined forces with Star so now you can find all your disney favourites, all billion seasons of the Simpsons and the offerings of Star, including Glee, 100 Things I Hate About You and, the target of today’s assassination, Ugly Betty.
The general premise of the series focused around a fashion-illiterate, happy-go-lucky girl hoping to get her foot into journalism, but her only opening is for Mode Magazine, a fashion publication. Through funny trials and mishaps, navigating the industry and managing her man-baby boss with limited appreciation. Honestly, the show isn’t bad. As someone who binges shows, I’ve actually not struggled to get through it. The characters aren’t overwhelmingly annoying or presented as angels but act like the devil (*cough* Lily from HIMYM). The plot lines, though absolutely insane sometimes in the same vein as classic telenovelas, are still fun and dramatic that keep you wanting more. The dynamics between the characters, the romantic relationships, the family drama are all tolerable at worst. However, there are some glaring issues that are hard to look past especially in this current climate.
Nearing the end of season 1, Ugly Betty played a card that was unfamiliar at the time the show initially aired: a transgender character. It’s alluded to that one of the main struggles for Daniel Meade, Betty’s boss, is living up to the shadow cast by his brother and his untimely death. Daniel’s brother, Alex, has a presence in the show without having been shown with verbal constant reminders that he was dead. Plot twist: they faked their death to transition into a woman. Ugly Betty was certainly before it’s time, though it is evident that there was still a lot of ground to cover. The blatant transphobia is loud and aggressive. Representation is so important, but when the main conversations about the issue are negative, condescending and rude, it’s hard to see how this is a positive step for the trans community. This was without a doubt the most uncomfortable part of watching this show. You have been warned.
Other parts of the show that are difficult to watch are the elitism that is exaggerated for comedic effects, the dumbing down of Amanda (especially offensive as an Amanda), repetitive storyline that sees Wilhelmina as the villain. I’m sure there is some sense of belittling if you wear last season’s Prada or green and red in May, but Betty had so much potential in her style and was so confident in what she wore that it felt excessive to have her as the butt of the joke even after being employed for years at a fashion company. If Betty had abided by Coco Chanel’s “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off” or pulled off a french-tuck every once in a while, she might have actually been considered fashionable. Now, the Amanda-Dumb Blonde travesity! Amanda wanted Betty’s job and showed the potential to do it. When the writers were bored, they even pretended that she was smarter than she was generally portrayed and that she wanted more than to be a crappy office receptionist. Cut to season 4 and she’s seduced as easily as Hansel & Gretel with a trail of clothes only to rat out a very personal secret of her boss. Finally, even though they had plenty of material given how many characters come and go with juicy secrets, the main struggle throughout all 4 seasons is Wilhelmina vying for the Editor-in-Chief position of Mode. The Meade family makes the same mistakes over and over again, and Wilhelmina never quotes succeed. I guess her desperation and perseverance is admirable, but it becomes a plot device you can always count on.
Outside of these complaints, I see a lot of myself in Betty. She’s a quirky, passionate lady with a lovely spirit. She handles challenges well, though you know she will always come out on top. Her relationships are few but feel plentiful and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that they did not push romance between Betty and Daniel. It’s an easy show to digest, minus the heavy issues. Everything is relatively light hearted or a least crazy enough to watch in a happy disbelief. 3 out of 5 stars, 4 if you’re interested in the industry. For the record, Betty isn’t ugly at all, but the show is just a little.