Thursday, September 28, 2006

TV premiering tonight: Ugly Betty

I'm sort of mystified at the positive reviews for this show, which struck me as a complete mess when I saw the pilot last month. It's a very awkward mix of dumb comedy and heavy-handed schmaltz, and I didn't think it worked at all. We're supposed to sympathize with the main character, but she looks like such a caricature that it's tough to believe her as a real person. The rest of the characters are similar cliches, except when the script calls for them to turn serious and sentimental and impart some important lesson about believing in yourself or something.

And this is a show all about lessons, hitting you over the head with simplistic morals about acceptance and sacrifice. It's not funny, it's not emotionally affecting, and it's not even good soap opera (sort of surprising given that it's based on a very popular telenovela). It has the same disingenuous theme as the awful The Devil Wears Prada: Women should never pursue careers if it takes them away from being available to their family and friends at every waking moment.

I love that there is a show with a realistic-looking woman as its main character (star America Ferrara), and I love the idea that she can be portrayed as smart, beautiful and undaunted by contemporary beauty standards. But this show undermines any of its own accomplishments by making Betty as much an object of ridicule as one of admiration, and by turning her story into either fodder for dumb comedy or overwrought melodrama. Either way, it's an insult. ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.

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