Friday, February 09, 2007

Honking Box Preview: Ugly Betty

A few months back, we were warned by a selection of Stateside friends to be patient with new comedy du jour Ugly Betty, as apparently it gets off to a rather bumpy start. And several episodes in, we're yet to encounter any of this supposedly rocky content. It's no surprise that we're generally rather quick to judge, but rarely does that result in anything other than bitter hatred.

Yes, we wholeheartedly, um, heart Ugly Betty. We love the dialogue as sharp as Shane MacGowan’s incisors. We love the telenovela permanently gracing the Suarez household's own honking box. We love Ashley Jensen getting the opportunity to shine away from the apparent squillion-watt glow of Ricky Gervais. We love everything about Betty's trashy sister Hilda.

And most of all, we love the way America Ferrera plays Betty with a song in her heart and her train tracks a-flashin'. It would be so easy to fall into the clich├ęd portrayal of a frumpy girl with a desperation to belong, but giving Betty an unashamed zest and her own brand of confidence is one of the key charms of the show.

For all its joys, we're not overly keen on the mystery of Fey Sommers, an aspect of Ugly Betty which seemingly is a pre-requisite on the back of similar enigmafests in Lost and Desperate Housewives. That and the fact we'll never be able to take Alan Dale seriously - how are we expected to believe his appearance as a sinister Murdoch figure, when we've seen him take eternal helpings of The Slaegin from three incarnations of Lucy Robinson? Murderous businessman schtick is beaten by "I hate Erinsborough and I hate YOU!" every time.

Bearing in mind this tiresome riddle aspect is our least favourite aspect of the show, perhaps we've picked the wrong week to sing the praises of Ugly Betty. Tonight's episode has a particularly dark theme, not just addressing the ongoing Bradford Meade puzzle, but also following the backstory of Betty’s father and his not entirely lawful presence in the States. Quite how he managed that is beyond us – if the crazy security bitch we encountered at JFK Airport is any indication of the US immigration behemoth, the man’s a genius.

On a lighter note, we get to also join Hilda on her first trip to the Mode offices, which we’re informed is true comedic platinum. We're hoping in particular to see Amanda and Marc facing off against five foot eight of brash Brooklyn finger-snapping.

Lazier sources have been citing Ugly Betty as the successor to Friends, but having been watching vintage Ally McBeal on the God-awful TMF, and with Desperate Housewives peaking week after week, it’s probably fairer to say it continues in the same dreadfully-labelled but excellently-executed dramedy vain. And even outside of its pigeonholing, Ugly Betty stands up proud as a tremendously entertaining show years ahead of its time.

(Shhh! Just don’t mention the fact that Betty isn’t actually ugly. They’re hoping we won’t notice…)

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