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''Ugly Betty'': She is seduced by fashion

On ”Ugly Betty,” our heroine falls in love with a handbag while helping Daniel get away with padding his expense account

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America Ferrera, Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Ana Ortiz, Vanessa Williams
Salma Hayek
Comedy, Drama

”Ugly Betty”: She is seduced by fashion

Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Quite possibly so, considering that tonight’s episode of Ugly Betty — the first to air since Nov. 30 — had me alternately reaching for the Puffs, pressing the rewind button on my DVR (so I could hear dialogue that had been drowned out by my initial hoots of laughter), and fighting the urge to stand up and cheer. All this, and I’d still rank ”Swag” as only my fourth- or fifth-favorite episode of the Golden Globe-nominated series’ young run.

Oh, and by the way, that reminds me: Before I continue, can we all pause for a moment to purge any residual rage left over from the Golden Globes’ snub of Vanessa (L. Yeah) Williams in the Best Supporting Actress category — not to mention the lack of love for Becki Newton, Mark Indelicato, Ana Ortiz, Michael Urie, and even Eric Mabius? Actually, who am I kidding? I’m never gonna get over it. Not ever. (Hopefully, my body will find a use for all the excess bile in my system.)

Then again, I guess I should be pleased that at least the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had the good sense to give a nod to America Ferrera in the Best Actress in a Comedy category. Certainly, tonight’s episode confirmed she deserves all the accolades the world has to give.

Think about it: In theory, Betty’s pivotal scene tonight — breaking down on Hilda’s shoulder after trading her genuine Gucci bag for her dad’s prescription meds — shouldn’t have resonated the way it did. I mean, seriously, was there any choice to be made? How could Betty give even a wisp of a thought to keeping a purse when her dad’s life hung in the balance? And yet, somehow, Ferrera managed to make the moment a heartbreaker. For once, Betty understood gal pal Christina’s belief that fashion can be good for the soul, and that it can change the way folks respond to you — but she only got to experience that happiness for a few fleeting moments. When Betty sobbed to Hilda, ”I actually felt pretty,” it was almost as if she wished the darn handbag had never put the idea in her head. That it also conjured up memories of her dear, departed mom — well, let’s just say I was dabbin’ at the old eyes, and it ain’t allergy season. (And props once again to the set designers for that muy depressing pink metal headboard on our heroine’s bed.)

Of course, Ferrera also rocked it in her less serious scenes. Watching her quake in front of Bradford (”It was a pack of Post-Its!”) or crawl down the Mode hallway/catwalk during the fashion show underscored the range this young woman has; how many great physical comediennes can master drama with equal aplomb?

Still, the episode wasn’t Ferrera’s alone. This week, the writers finally gave some serious screen time to Ashley Jensen’s Christina, and the killer one-liners to go along with it. I’m not sure which was my favorite, though, either ”Believe me, you walk into Mode with a knockoff, you might as well walk in with a cow bladder,” or maybe the winning Wizard of Oz nicknames she slapped on Willie and Marc: ”The witch and the flying monkey set you up!”

The evening’s best put-down, however, was lobbed at Christina, not by her — that being Amanda’s stinging salutation to her two office rivals: ”Hey, Betty. [Beat.] Seamstress.” You’ve got to love that the writers aren’t skittish about displaying all of Amanda’s ugliest assumptions about class and race — like her trying to win Betty’s bag with the line ”Here’s a Menudo box set and a coupon for 100 taquitos!” Indeed, not every TV character needs a secret heart of gold, and Amanda, for one, is, simply put, fabulously douche-y.

With so many zingers getting thrown around, the episode’s main plot — Daniel’s corporate card was revoked over a wonky expense report, right before a dinner with the star designer Oshi — was almost an afterthought. But why complain with so many ridiculously sublime details about the minimalist designer to enjoy? The man brushes his teeth with champagne! He enters a room with his theme song blaring from an assistant’s boom box! He’s responsible for the tome Oshi on Oshi, by Oshi! Somewhere, Karl Lagerfeld is demanding his assistant take notes.

As for me, I’m taking notes from only one Betty character on how handle defeat. Wilhelmina’s party parting shot — ”Stop looking at it!” — after her coworkers learned she’d fudged her photo-shoot expense report to pay for a Brazilian ”butt lift,” is still making me laugh as I write this column. There’s one woman who knows how to make an exit.

What did you think of this week’s show? Didn’t you adore Justin’s Burberry-belt moment? Did you see that initial Henry-Betty spark when she absconded with his bagel? And how are the writers going to stop Betty from exiting Mode?