Image Credit: ABCIt is with a heavy heart that I will sit down to watch my last hour of the seminal television show Ugly Betty tonight. Say whatever you will about the quality of the show over the past couple seasons — it may have hit some rough patches creatively — but you can’t deny that Ugly Betty was one of the most beautiful, provoking, delightful dramedies to hit network television in the past decade. Here, in one of my last Ugly Betty posts ever on PopWatch, indulge me as I take a minute to celebrate why the Mode universe that I, and many of you, so deliciously relished over the past four years truly did matter.
On a very personal note, Ugly Betty affected my life in several important ways. I remember watching the pilot back in May 2006, when I worked at a different TV magazine just before landing at Entertainment Weekly. I was mesmerized. Somehow, with just the right amount of wit and grandeur, the Betty creators had managed to put a go-get-’em face — through one very beautiful, but supposedly “ugly,” girl played by American Fererra — on my own experience navigating the treacherous waters of the New York City publishing scene. In a way, ugly duckling Betty was a Mary Tyler Moore for a younger generation.
That pilot, right down to the fade-out song I once loved so, “Suddenly I See,” felt like someone had taken the past couple years of my life, candy-coated it, wrapped it in a Guadalajara poncho, and given it an 8 p.m. time slot on national television. Granted, I was not Betty. I did not work at a fashion magazine. I was not fighting all the bitchery and prejudice that she did. But I understood her plight in so many ways: her desire to reach her dreams, her wanton lust for writing, her near-constant feeling that she was an outsider. The show’s wildly successful run as the lead-in to Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights must have meant many other people did, too.
Once I did land at EW, just prior to Ugly Betty‘s launch, the show eventually became one of my beats. I blogged about it each week in a TV Watch column here on EW.com, reveled in the clever one-liners through Ugly Betty Bites posts, interviewed its amazing cast and its savvy creator Silvio Horta, and even wrote a book, Find Your Inner Ugly Betty, about how to extrapolate career advice from the show, as well as several others on television at the time. The show all about watching a young career girl move her way up through the ranks had rather unexpectedly and ironically become a boon for my own career.
But the show’s huge imprint on my personal life — and again, I’m sure the personal lives of lots of other people like me — is almost more indelible than all that. Some may think I’m getting too personal here (though I don’t really care because I don’t have secrets), but during the time the show was on, I came out as a gay man. Partly because it was high time. But also party because I felt comfortable with myself after watching the silly, yet steeped-in-reality portrayals of gay people on Ugly Betty. I felt alive after watching hours of a television show where being yourself was not only what people did, but celebrated heartily. Marc, and eventually Justin and a slew of the other characters, did not apologize for who they were. They were proud. So why shouldn’t I be? (And, truly, how can one blog about, write a book about, and obsess about such a gay show and, you know, not actually be gay?)
But the beauty of the show goes beyond those professional and personal reasons. Once a week, we wandered into a land that was at once ridiculously dreamy and shockingly real, where the focus was split between the preposterousness of Mode magazine and absoluteness of the Suarez family’s love. Betty made me wince for her pratfalls and see the good in everything; Wilhelmina made we fall over with her sharp one-liners, withering stares, and amazing fashions; Amanda and Marc made me cry tears of pure comedic joy; Justin made me ache for his bravery; Hilda made me see the best in people; and Ignacio made me feel like I was home. For an hour each week, it felt like a big ol’ serving of heart and soul was on television — something I desperately needed being 1,500 miles from my own family.
I used to write this in my Ugly Betty TV Watch column each week, but I literally cried at least once during each episode. The term “Puffs Moment” was coined by my colleague Michael Slezak, and it meant the time during each Ugly Betty hour where you felt your heart cave in and a tear streak your cheek. Recall: the moment Betty got the job at Mode, when Santos died, when Ignacio suffered a heart attack, when Marc met Cliff, when Justin walked onto that dance floor with Austin last week…the list goes on and on. The fact that the show so smartly and subtly portrayed the coming out of 16-year-old Justin last week is reason enough to love this show and understand why it was so important for network television.
Now, with the final hour of the show airing tonight, I feel like I’m losing a good friend who’s been there for me over the past four seasons. For its beauty, for its wit, for its heart, Ugly Betty mattered.
As for you readers out there, I’d love to share this bittersweet end with you. So tell me in the comments below: Why did Ugly Betty matter to you? How did the show touch your life?
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky