Thursday, May 03, 2007

"I will ride that giant robot horse all the way to Mexico!": Ugly Betty

I am not what the kids today would call "a laugher." I don't often find myself cackling with glee at the things I see on the television set. I'll occasionally chuckle wryly at something, but I am not known for great peals of laughter, booming out from my lungs, waking the neighbors.

But Ugly Betty's Amanda got me with her acting reel. It wasn't the writing (all of the clips in her acting reel were pretty standard "this is bad acting!" stuff), and it wasn't the direction. It was all Becki Newton finding the ideal bad acting touches to put into the various scenes, from a hilarious growl at the end of her phone sex ad to the way she said "magical" in her role as the lead wench at the Medieval Times ripoff restaurant. Newton has rapidly become one of the best things about a big, goofy ensemble, and it was nice to have the episode give her a moment in the spotlight alone. 'Tis rare to find a hot girl who can make you laugh, but Newton fits the role to a T.

But this was a good episode for everyone in the ensemble, even America Ferrera, who's always the show's gooey center, but so rarely gets to be outright funny. In this episode, Ferrera got to ride a mechanical bull (and utter the goofiest "Yay!" ever in a dream sequence about same) and deliver the kind of silly, over-eager dialogue that she delivers so well (leading to the quote selected above). The episode also advanced the sparkling chemistry she has with Christopher Gorham's Henry, showing him defending her honor in the most bizarre way possible (by fighting with the world's only frat boy secretary atop a log at the restaurant) then confessing his love to her before Jayma Mays showed up to tell Betty to butt out (and you have to admire the show for not making Mays' character completely reprehensible -- or maybe I just love her TOO MUCH).

The immigration plotline continues to be dull as dust (particularly the attempts to get plane travel to Guadalajara so Ignacio could renew his visa), but I enjoyed seeing Ignacio get Hilda to be more of an adult and her beauty school showdown. The stuff with Alan Dale and Vanessa Williams was nothing to write home about, and the stuff with Alexis and her Brazilian boy toy was sadly predictable (yet another man stomped all over America's favorite transsexual's heart). At least we had Judith Light, who's turning in a remarkable performance every time she shows up, there to liven up both storylines by making the most of her time in prison, enthusing about toilet wine, paying homage to Arrested Development and finding herself sitting in some tough girl's seat. I didn't know Light had all of this in her, and here's hoping that she sticks with the show in season two.

The next two episodes apparently make up some sort of two-part season finale, and I hope that they can finally ditch some of the plots that don't work because the stuff that works works really well. It's easy to forgive a lot when so much works so well, but they'll need to clean up some of the stuff that doesn't work before reaching their full potential.

1 comment:

Wally said...

I didn't know Light had all of this in her, and here's hoping that she sticks with the show in season two.

Maybe my family and I really are as weird as the people in our little hometown apparently thought we were, but we all loved to watch Who's the Boss?, even recognizing its generic tawdriness. And Judith Light and Katherine Helmond were its best features - at least 3/5 of that core cast had plenty of range, maybe 4/5 (can't say much for the little guy). The romance plot was goofy of course but it all ended as this lovely alt-family vibe and I confess here that I loved it. Jaime Weinman has written well about the show but I'm too lazy to look up the link.

Anyway I'm just glad to hear Judith Light's getting good work.