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Ugly Betty: The Complete First
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/21/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/27/2007
Over the years, there have been many American television shows which were adapted from British TV series. From the modern hit The Office to classics like Sanford & Son (that one always surprises people), there have been a long line of shows which has been yanked across the pond. But, there haven't been that many U.S. shows which were taken from Colombian television. In fact, I can only think of one, and that's the overnight smash Ugly Betty, which brought the flavor of a "telenovella" to prime-time TV. Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season has just come to DVD.
Ugly Betty tells the story of Meade Publications, a large organization which publishes several magazines. The company has gone through some rough times recently. Alex Meade, the son of company founder Bradford Meade (Alan Dale), dies two years ago, and now, the editor of Meade's flagship magazine Mode, Fey Sommers, has been killed in a car wreck. Bradford appoints his playboy son, Daniel (Eric Mabius), to be editor-in-chief at Mode. This infuriates creative director Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), who felt that the job should have been hers.
Into this world comes Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), an innocent girl from Queens. Betty has recently graduated college and wants to enter the world of publishing. With thick eyebrows, braces, and ill-fitting clothing, Betty looks like none of the other women applying for a job with Meade. Bradford spots her and decides that she would make the perfect assistant for Daniel, who has a history of seducing his attractive secretaries. Thus, Betty enters the world of the beautiful and the fashion-conscious. Betty struggles at first, as many of her co-workers are quite cruel to her, and Daniel has no idea what to make of her, but she soon proves herself. This delights her family -- father Ignacio (Tony Plana), sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz), and nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato) -- but her boyfriend, Walther (Kevin Sussman), doesn't like that Betty is working in Manhattan.
Unless you don't follow TV at all, you know that Ugly Betty has become a big hit for ABC and that the show one two Golden Globes (Best Comedy and Best Actress for America Ferrera). Watching the show, it's interesting that it's popular, as the show is a unique blend of the old, the new, and the foreign. As someone who came of age during the era of Dallas and Dynasty (when the big 3 networks controlled everything), I immediately felt comfortable with the aspects of Ugly Betty which portray the rich family and all of the wheeling & dealing/backstabbing which goes on within Mode and the Meade family. As with those prime-time soaps of old, Ugly Betty plays with the conceit that rich people have problems just like everyone else...except they are huge problems which involve murder and infidelity. Given the success of those iconic shows of the 80s, it's not surprising that someone would want to recreate the genre.
On top of this familiar foundation, the creators of Ugly Betty have placed fairly unique layers. Obviously, Betty herself is unlike many characters on TV. For this show, the main character is a goofy, intentionally unattractive, and we're not used to seeing this on an hour-long prime-time show. But, Betty goes beyond her over-the-top look. She is infused with genuine warmth and charm, which contrasts her from her superficial co-workers. The show then takes another step forward by carefully monitoring Betty's progression through the show. Betty grows and matures at Mode, learning the job and discovering her own self-confidence, but she never changes her style. Most viewers will wait for the episode where Betty gets a (true) makeover, but that never happens. The show stays very true to its vision. Along with this, we have a show which takes its fashion world setting very seriously and it never displays any guilt for constantly throwing around designer names and clothing. In addition, the show features openly gay characters, where their sexuality is rarely the focus of any stories.
Ugly Betty is based on a Colombian "telenovella", the soap operas from Latin America which have invaded America through Telemundo and Univision. These shows are famous for being overly melodramatic and containing crazy plot twists. (Saturday Night Live did a great spoof of this recently where a character's shirt keeps blowing open.) These shows take the stereotypical soap opera elements of sex, money, power, and deception and blow them totally out of proportion. Ugly Betty features this and, again, doesn't pull any punches. The show has multiple plot twists and missing one episode could cause one to get lost.
Because of this serialized nature, Ugly Betty is one of those shows which really benefits from viewing on DVD. Being able to watch the shows back-to-back enables the viewer to follow the story and not have to wait for the cliffhangers. However, this also allows the audiences to see the show's flaws. While it may be a nod to the show's "telenovella" roots, the series actually has too many twists and turns and it becomes a bit too ridiculous at times. Also, one can note that the show is somewhat redundant in the way that the same characters keep getting involved in the same situations. (We also see that Betty and Bradford have the exact same conversation twice, although the second time they both act like they are having it for the first time.) The constant striving to keep everyone in a state of turmoil means that some of the subplots aren't very good, and the show suffers when it veers away from Betty and Daniel.
While Ugly Betty doesn't rate a perfect score, the show gets my highest praise for a TV show DVD set: I will definitely be tuning in for the new season. (I have to...this one had like eight cliffhangers in the end.) Although the show is marketed as a comedy, it leans more towards drama and I was surprised by this. Ugly Betty is a throwback to old-school prime-time soaps with just enough modern flair to make it interesting.
Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season stumbles onto DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. This six-disc boxed set contains all 23 episodes from the show's inaugural season. The shows are presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and they are 16 x 9. The transfer looks good, as the image is very sharp and clear. This show is all about colors, and they come through wonderful on these DVDs. The pastels are vivid, while the darker shades look convincing. I did note some mild video noise at times, but otherwise these transfers rival digital broadcast quality. The shows contain a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There is a nice use of surround sound and stereo effects here, most notably in crowded office or party scenes. We get a good sampling of subwoofer from the dance music which is played throughout the show.
The extra features on the Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season set are somewhat disappointing. Most of the extras are found on Disc 6. “Becoming Ugly” (12 minutes) features the producers discussing the creation of the show and the cast talking about their characters. They talk about the original show, but we don’t get a description of it, nor are there any clips. “Green is the New Black” (6 minutes) gives an overview of how green screen effects are used to recreate New York locations. The look of the sets, the production design, and how the show is shot is explored in “A La Mode” (7 minutes). The DVD contains 27 DELETED SCENES which run about 21 minutes. Most of these are simply extensions of existing scenes and don’t add much new information. We also get a 4-minute reel of “Ugly Bloopers”. The other extras are AUDIO COMMENTARIES. They are: “Pilot” with creator/executive producer Silvio Horta, director Richard Shepard, and co-executive producer Teri Weinberg (Disc 1); “Fey’s Sleigh Ride” with actors Becki Newton and Michael Urie (Disc 2); “Sofia’s Choice” with actors Salma Hayak and Eric Mabius (Disc 3); and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with actors Vanessa Williams and Michael Urie.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long