Review: Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty

In the US: ABC, Thursdays, 8/7c

In the UK: Don’t know. Can’t seem to find anyone who’s picked it up. But it will be. Oh yes.

“Telenovelas” are this South American thing (apparently. I’m just taking the word of others here, since I have no knowledge of the South American TV industry whatsoever). They’re like soap operas except they’re of fixed length, with a pre-defined beginning, middle and end.

Ugly Betty (aka “Yo Soy Betty La Fea”) is one of Colombia’s most popular telenovelas and now ABC has adapted it and made it its own. Given that the first episode cranked up 16 million viewers or so, making it the most popular of the new TV shows of the season, how much do you want a bet that ABC, the network that likes to say “Can we have more Lost? Or something that’s like an anagram of Lost? Or something a bit like Lost anyway?”, is going to be able to call it a day once the story is over?

The plot (entirely written by me. Any resemblance between it and the copy on the ABC web site is purely coincidental)

In the superficial world of high fashion, image is everything. Styles come and go, and the only constants are the superthin beauties who wear them. How can an ordinary girl ?��Ǩ��� a slightly plump plain-Jane from Queens ?��Ǩ��� possibly fit in?

If you took a moment to get to know Betty Suarez, you’d see how sweet, intelligent and hard-working she is. But few people do, because in the world of high fashion Betty is the oversized peg in the petite round hole. When publishing mogul Bradford Meade hands the reigns of Mode, the bible of the fashion industry, over to this son, Daniel, he specifically hires Betty as his son’s new assistant ?��Ǩ��� mostly because she’s the only woman in NYC Daniel won’t sleep with. Though this “player” is reluctant to accept her at first, Betty’s indomitable spirit and bright ideas will eventually win him over. Neither of them really knows the ins and outs of the fashion world, but the two are a formidable team against those who will do anything to see them fall.

And they really are swimming with the sharks. Diva fashionista Wilhelmina Slater is incensed that Bradford Meade passed her over and promoted Daniel to the coveted job after the mysterious death (or was it?) of Mode’s legendary editress, Fey Sommers. Wilhelmina, along with toadying assistant Marc and scheming receptionist Amanda, are out to sabotage Daniel and Betty any chance they get. Betty finds a friend in warm-hearted Christina, who works as the magazine’s in-house seamstress and seems to know everything about everybody who works there.

Away from work, Betty’s home life is far from glamorous. Dad Ignacio and her sister, Hilda, worry that she’s just setting herself up for a fall, while nephew Justin encourages his aunt to dream big (even if he’s aghast at her fashion sense). Nerdy boyfriend Walter, who unceremoniously dumped Betty, keeps turning up despite her attempts to get him to stay away.

Es buena?

If you’ve ever read any chick lit in your entire life, you’ll pretty much know the formula to Ugly Betty backwards. But, there’s a reason for the formula’s success: it’s actually pretty enjoyable. I’m sure there’ll be make-over sessions, temptations away from the straight and narrow for the heroine and a realisation by the handsome boss that his assistant is the woman he’s been looking for all this time.

But Ugly Betty is a little more than chick flick. It’s like a cross between a live-action comic and a US daytime soap opera. There are evil scheming villains masked by darkness trying to foil Betty’s attempts to get to the top, and the whole show is shot in a delightful primary colour palette that gives it a larger than life quality.

There’s also a pleasing number of Latino cast members, including exec producer Salma Hayek doing a cameo or two, mostly in a telenovela that Betty appears to be a fan of. Ashley Jensen from Extras also does a turn as a friendly face in a company of backstabbers, who helps Betty in her hour of need (she gets to keep her Scottish accent), and the ubiquitous Alan Dale (Jim from Neighbours) boosts the Australian head count as the Murdoch-esque head of Betty’s new firm.

And then there’s Vanessa Williams. How odd.

It’s not absolutely brilliant and I’ll probably stop watching after the third episode, but if Bridget Jones is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy and maybe even love Ugly Betty.

Here’s a trailer for the show.


America Ferrera (Betty Suarez)

Eric Mabius (Daniel Meade)

Alan Dale (Bradford Meade)

Tony Plana (Ignacio)

Ana Ortiz (Hilda)

Ashley Jensen (Christina)

Becki Newton (Amanda)

Mark Indelicato (Justin)

Vanessa Williams (Wilhelmina Slater)


Salma Hayek (executive producer)

Silvio Horta (executive producer)

Ben Silverman (executive producer)

Jose Tamez (executive producer)

James Parriott (executive producer)

James Hayman (executive producer)

Production company

Touchstone Television


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.