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''Ugly Betty'': Betty loses the Book

On ”Ugly Betty,” our heroine commits a firing offense when she loses the mock-up issue; plus, she defends her graduation bunny

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America Ferrera, Ugly Betty

”Ugly Betty”: Betty loses the Book

Despite what ABC’s promotional department would have us believe, it’s unlikely that ugly is anywhere close to becoming the new beautiful. After all, Betty Suarez, titular heroine of the network’s freshman sensation Ugly Betty, hardly embodies the U-word that precedes her name.

Okay, yeah, girlfriend is screaming for a VO5 Hot Oil treatment and a shopping spree at Express, but in real estate terms, she’s a genuine fixer-upper, and darn it all, she’s got lovely bones. True, her eyebrows pop out like two rogue bushes that defile the landscaping; her every outfit hangs like a garish set of outdated curtains; her outsize glasses and braces sit like scaffolding that obscures the building’s exterior. But come now, it’s America Ferrera under there: Not even the most superficial observer could be blind to that kind of interior (and exterior) beauty — except for maybe in certain Hollywood and fashion circles where a protruding clavicle is all the rage.

That said, after watching tonight’s episode, the series’ second, I think a better tagline for Ugly Betty would be ”Dorky is the new cool.” Consider this week’s highly amusing subplot involving Betty’s kidnapped mascot (tormented with a noose and threatened with a plunge into an open toilet!): Everyone’s got his or her own pink stuffed graduation bunny (either actual or metaphorical), but how many folks are so gloriously un-self-consciousness that they’re willing to display it for the world to see?

Mind you, Betty’s no fool. Her twitch of discomfort at mean queen Marc’s shady ”I applaud your efforts at personalizing your desk” tells the tale: She’s acutely aware of the hipper-than-thou attitude permeating the halls of Mode. The true beauty of Betty, though, is her refusal to mute everything that bunny says about her. She didn’t go to the right school. She can’t afford the right clothes. She comes from a working-class background where a hot-pink plush toy says, ”Job well done.” You wanna make something of it? ‘Cause it’s sitting in the middle of her desk.

That defiant streak, combined with Betty’s almost childlike refusal to place value on the valueless sacred cows of the Mode world — minimal lunches, airbrushing, casual backstabbing — gives her a freshness that makes her different from almost any other TV heroine in recent memory. She renders all of our doofiest hang-ups oddly irrelevant. Case in point: I am severely phobic about reading something aloud and encountering a phrase in French. I freeze up. I try to skip over it, or if (mon Dieu!) that’s not possible, mumble my way through it. Betty’s the zesty opposite. She stands on her chair and demands, ”Has anyone seen my bunny? It’s pink. Green tummy. Graduation cap.” And that’s why I’m hooked on her like Wilhelmina appears to be on mid-day foot rubs.

Fair enough, Betty doesn’t challenge us when it comes to her chalk outline of a plot — the second we heard of the value of the Book, we all knew some wacky twist of fate would find Betty misplacing it and then, inevitably, saving the day — but I get my mind bent hard enough on ABC Wednesdays, thanks very much. And anyway, as we saw in tonight’s episode, even boldfaced names like Renée Zellweger, er, Natalie Whitman, struggle with body image and empanada cravings, so I for one won’t be complaining that the whole fairy tale goes down a little too smoothly. And anyway, pat as the moment may have been, I think my eyes may have gotten a teeny bit misty when Betty told Natalie she was beautiful just the way she was.

All righty then, let’s put the sap on the back burner, because it’s time to count down the episode’s three Fabulous Camp Moments. Drumroll, por favor:

3. Ready-to-rumble Hilda (Ana Ortiz) disengaging from a catfight with neighborhood trollop Gina by ripping out a clump of her rival’s weave and declaring, ”Guess we owe you 4000 dollars — and 50 cents.”

2. Gay-in-training Justin (the hilarious Mark Indelicato), explaining his knowledge of what the Book is by excitedly declaring, ”I saw Prada, like, seven times.” All that boy is missing is a finger snap. Seriously.

1. And topping our countdown, we have Marc, explaining to Wilhelmina the ease with which he bartered a flat-screen TV to get the Book from Gina: ”Poor, unemployed thing. Just couldn’t bear missing another episode of Tyra.”

What did you think of this week’s Betty? Are you, like me, hoping she doesn’t succumb to Walter’s reconciliation efforts? And what do you think of the slightly out-of-place subplot involving Fey Sommers’ faked death?