Friday, March 16, 2007

"Enough with the vagina monologue! Open it!": Ugly Betty

After the dizzying heights the show reached in January and February, when it spun off plotline after plotline in seemingly every episode, this was a bit of a comedown episode, but you couldn't expect the show to be sheer campy excitement every week. So, instead, we got a goofy one-off, with Betty trying to make Henry jealous (since he's back with his old girlfriend, played by SDD favorite JAYMA MAYS) and some Mode intrigue and Daniel's sister finding out that he's sleeping with their dad's lawyer (a thankfully non-grating Lucy Liu). Why, there was even Jesse Tyler Ferguson of TV's The Class to guide us along as an orthodontist named Dr. Farkus!

Now, there's not a lot I always like on television, but if there IS one thing I like all the time, it's Bizarro versions of characters we know and love -- I liked Lester and Eliza on The Simpsons, I liked Elaine's Bizarro Jerry and pals on Seinfeld, and I even liked when the South Park kids went over to Afghanistan and met Afghani versions of themselves. So I was tickled to see that Amanda and Mark had slightly off counterparts in the "skank" and the delivery guy. It was fun to see the two face off with these other two, and it was fun to see Becki Newton try to walk around in that dress the designer made for her (Newton, who didn't really have a lot to do in the pilot, has rapidly turned into my favorite supporting player on the show). The best part was that neither was all THAT different from Amanda or Mark, making their hatred of the two that much funnier.

While the runner of everyone thinking that Dr. Farkus was Henry was a little tiresome and predictable, I did like Ferguson quite a bit here. He seemed genuinely smitten by Betty (everyone does on this show -- America Ferrera must just be that easy to love), and his growing dismay that she had told everyone about her feelings for Henry (cavorting, if I may remind you, with JAYMA MAYS) and they assumed she had triumphed was funnier than the mistaken identity stuff. It all led up to Judith Light (as the Meade matriarch) telling Betty to pursue the man she truly has feelings for, which wasn't all that interesting (since, sadly, Mays is not a regular) as it was the direction we always knew the show would head in anyway. Still, Betty and Henry are an appealing pair with a nice, nerdy chemistry, and I think the show is waiting just the right amount of time to get them together (assuming it happens before the end of the season).

Finally, there was Daniel and Alexis and Lucy Liu. While Mother Meade did turn herself in eventually, this plot line was significantly less interesting than the others. Daniel's a better character when he's lovelorn, but they can't have him mooning after some new beauty in every single episode.

If you get a chance, read the Entertainment Weekly cover story on the show. While it's clear that all of the writers and actors care a lot about this show, it's also clear that they're just sort of winging it, discarding stuff that doesn't work and promoting stuff that does on the fly (which led to that abysmal early January hour where they repurposed an episode that didn't work as a flashback of sorts), creating story confusion and confounding the actors (Rebecca Romijn, who plays Alexis, was blindsided by her character's shift from vengeful ex-brother to benevolent sibling who bonds with Daniel over ice cream). I don't know how long a show can sustain this kind of pace without a long term plan, but Betty is so fun in the now that I'm not sure I care all that much.

No comments: