Directed by James Hayman et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 992 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SHD, Spanish, French
Release Date: August 21, 2007
Review Date: August 20, 2007
Telenovelas have been popular in Spanish-speaking countries for decades. Ugly Betty was adapted for American television from a wildly popular Colombian series. As in all telenovelas, Ugly Betty contains a mixture of slapstick comedy, melodrama to the most outrageous degree, and characters that often run more toward caricature than real flesh and blood people. And yet, through all of this satirical extremity, there is heart and soul and warmth. With skillful writing, even the villains have traits that make viewers care about their fates. And the “heroes” of the story, the good guys who try to do the right thing despite overwhelming odds against them and adversaries who don’t play fair, become so endearing to us that we keep tuning in each week to root them on.
Ugly Betty burst on to the American airwaves in late September 2006 and was an instant hit. And it’s easy to see why: Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) is a Latina who has great hopes for working in the publishing industry. She gets as job as assistant to the editor of a fashion magazine, but the problem is that she’s about as far away from a fashion plate as one could be. Her co-workers, appalled that someone so gawky and gauche not only could be hired at their piece of perfection heaven but that she could actually be good at her job, throw obstacles in her path at every opportunity.
She works as the executive assistant for Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), editor-in-chief of Mode, one of the top fashion magazines in the country. Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), who coveted the job as editor, together with her viperous assistant Marc (Michael Urie), does everything she can to sabotage Daniel and Betty in the eyes of Mode’s publisher Bradford Meade (Alan Dale), Daniel’s father. At home, Betty must cope with a father (Tony Plana) who we learn several episodes into the season is an illegal immigrant, a beautiful sister (Ana Ortiz) who‘s an unwed single mother, and a preteen nephew (Mark Indelicato) who’s into fashion and musical theater. That Ugly Betty breaks (at long last) many of the rules for family comedy-dramas is one of its grandest accomplishments during its first season. Yes, it’s outrageous, frequently over-the-top, and awash in some stereotypes that some might find demeaning or decidedly out of date. But the show’s heart is in such a good place that it’s easy to overlook any eccentricities and overbearing traits and just enjoy the ride. There are usually a few laughs and a few tears to reward the viewer each week.
There isn’t a single cast member who hasn’t fit instantly into this world of haute couture and haughty conniving. American Ferrera gives an instant star-making performance as Betty. Vanessa Williams is as maliciously evil as one could hope as the treacherous snake in the grass. Eric Mabius as the playboy editor who jumps on and off the conscientious bandwagon during the season couldn’t be better cast. Among the guest stars who pop in for one or more visits this season are Christopher Gorham (very effective as one of Betty’s suitors), Judith Light, Gina Gershon, Salma Hyack, Patti Lupone, and Rita Moreno.
Not every plot strand attempted during the first season worked out well. A story arc with a female immigration case worker who falls for Betty’s father was tedious and went nowhere. Wilhelmina’s abrasive relationship with her daughter was a fizzle. Hilda’s sibling rivalry with Betty never rang true since the sisters are so very different in the skills and looks department. And speaking of sibling rivalries, Daniel and Alexis’ on again-off again filial bond was haphazardly written during the course of the season. But those were exceptions rather than the rule with the series. The ongoing romance between Henry and Betty played out beautifully through the season, and Hilda’s former love Santos popped up in several episodes to excellent effect.
Here is the line-up of episodes from the first season. An asterisk (*) marks an especially exemplary episode:
*1 - Pilot
2 - Queens for a Day
3 - The Box and the Bunny
4 - Swag
*5 - Fey’s Sleigh Ride
6 - The Lyin’, the Watch and the Wardrobe
7 - Trust, Lust and Must
8 - After Hours
*9 - Four Thanksgivings and a Funeral
*10 - Lose the Boss?
11 - Fake Plastic Snow
12 - Sofia’s Choice
13 - In or Out
*14 - I’m Coming Out
15 - Brothers
*16 - Derailed
17 - Icing on the Cake
*18 - Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
19 - Punch Out
*20 - Petra-Gate
21 - Secretaries Day
22 - A Tree Grows in Guadalajara
*23 - East Side Story
The show is broadcast in high definition over ABC in 720p, and this widescreen anamorphic transfer is a down conversion 480p transfer. The show is noted for its kaleidoscopic arrays of bold primary colors, and this standard definition set only approximates the striking look of the sets and costumes in the HD broadcast. The colors could pop more, and contrast could have been heightened to give it a more luminous feel. The image is above average in sharpness in most shots though occasionally some scenes are lacking. There is some aliasing present in fine line structures though no other digital artifacts seem to occasionally mar the presentation. Each episode has been divided into 8 chapters apart from the pilot which was split into 7 chapters..
The Dolby Digital 5.1 potential is mostly wasted in a dialog-heavy show such as this. Music is the primary occupant of the surround channels with an occasional voice also directed to something other than the center channel.
Four of the episodes in this six disc set contain commentaries. The pilot features the director, writer, and executive producer of the show enthusiastically discussing in detail the writing, casting, and filming of this first episode in New York (subsequent episodes were filmed in Hollywood). The other commentary that’s really engaging is by Michael Urie (Marc) and Becki Newton (Amanda) on episode 5. The other two duos (Eric Mabius and Salma Hyack on episode 12 and Michael Urie and Vanessa Williams on episode 18) are much more subdued with long spaces without comments and nothing much of interest discussed.
“Becoming Ugly” is a 12-minute featurette concentrating on the making of the series, especially the adaptation the original telenovela into the American version. Comments from several of the series stars and footage from the show's two wins at the 2007 Golden Globes are featured in this feature presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“A La Mode” is a 7-minute background featurette on the set design and costume design for the series, both important elements in its overall success during its first season. This is also presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Green Is the New Black” is a fascinating 5-minute explanation of how green screen is used to replicate New York locations while filming is done on the Paramount lot in Hollywood. This is also an anamorphic widescreen presentation.
The disc offers 27 deleted scenes amounting to a little over 20 minutes of footage. Most of the scenes are presented in 4:3 while a few are in non-anamorphic letterbox.
The special features conclude with a 3½-minute blooper reel made up of stumbles with lines, footing on the set, and inability to keep a straight face during a scene.
The disc also contains trailers for upcoming Disney DVD releases including Meet the Robinsons, Grey’s Anatomy - Season Three, Desperate Housewives - Season Three, and the first season of Brothers & Sisters.
The quality of Ugly Betty was not lost on the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It nominated the show for eleven Emmy Awards after its first season, and it seems certain to win some of those awards if not the big prize for Outstanding Comedy Series in mid-September. It’s probably not a show for all tastes, but if you like the built-in effervescent highs and melancholy lows of a comic soap opera, you won’t find a better example of the form than Ugly Betty.