For Your Consideration: Comedy Series – “Ugly Betty”

[As part of Cultural Learnings’ For Your Consideration Emmy Nominations Preview, the next two weeks will feature 7 Drama Series and 7 Comedy Series worthy of Emmy consideration. Check back daily for a different series, with drama and comedy alternating positions. For all of Cultural Learnings’ Emmy Coverage featuring Supporting and Lead Acting candidates, check out our For Your Consideration Index.]

Outstanding Comedy Series

Ugly Betty (ABC)

There are certain shows that are all hype and no follow through; they launch in September to rave reviews and high ratings, but immediately falter and fail to pull you in. For a brief period, I felt Ugly Betty was that show. And then, something clicked: the soap opera elements of the show’s plot were given resonance, and the series returned to its characters and settings that made it a success in the first place. And that’s really the hallmark of a series’ first season: does it end in worse or better shape than when it started. With perhaps the strongest melodramatic finale of the season (Take that, Grey’s), Ugly Betty proved that its initial success was no fluke, and its growth makes it deserving of Emmy consideration.

Where the series ran into the most problem was forgetting what it really was: a funny send-up of the fashion industry featuring a likable lead character and supporting performers who present a myriad of characters that flesh out this universe. When it started delving into Ignacio’s crazy case worker or everything to do with Walter, it lost sight of its best characters like Marc and Amanda, or Vanessa Williams’ delightful Wilhelmina. The show also fell off the rails when heading into pure soap opera territory with the murder of Fey Summers, but found its way back on track by (Amazingly) connecting the masked woman to the core storylines by revealing it to be Daniel’s post-op brother.

What should have killed the show actually allowed it to turn into something that much better, as Alexis became a three-dimensional character against the odds. The show hit a late-season strong period with the arrival of Christopher Gorham as the object of Betty’s affection, and even with some narrative quibbles key relationships and characters remained strong as the season ended on a tragic performance of West Side Story. By that point, I cared about characters more than I ever thought I would, and this universe had come together as something cohesive and impressive.

Every time I see that opening title featuring an uglified America Ferrera flashing her braces, I think about how wrong it is. After a while, I stopped looking at Betty as someone who didn’t fit in, because the show stopped treating her that way. The show became about an ensemble, about how the people at Mode Magazine struggle to deal with crazy soap opera drama and normal, solid comic and dramatic storylines. I am hoping that next season brings an opening credits sequence which emphasizes that this is not just the Betty show: this is an ensemble worthy of Emmy consideration.

Episode Submission: “Pilot” (Aired September 28th, 2006)

I disagree with this submission for a few reasons, but most importantly because it denies much of what I said above and many of the show’s other strong qualities. The show’s vibrant colours and its eye for set design seem lacking here, as Mode is depicted as sterile and unwelcoming. The same goes for the show’s characters: Wilhelmina is a stone cold bitch, Marc isn’t the least bit wry, and Amanda is just unpleasant as opposed to being her usual catty self.

The pilot is a well contained hour of television in which we empathize greatly with Betty’s character, but when everyone else around her is little but a stereotype themselves I can’t get too excited about Betty breaking down the ones facing her. It was likely still a smart submission considering how great America Ferrera is in the episode, but I can’t help but feel that later episodes had more heart as a whole and not just within one character.

But here’s a video from the pilot, and then a little something from a more recent episode. See if you can spot the differences in the portrayal of Marc and Wilhelmina, specifically. Also notice the very different colour palettes.


Youtube “East Side Story”

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Filed under ABC, Award Shows, Emmy Awards, Television, Ugly Betty

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