Ugly Betty is a fish out of water story. Betty Suarez (America Ferrara) is a frumpy girl from Queens who gets a job working at one of New York’s top fashion magazines. Her big hair, funky glasses and large braces make her stand out among the fashionable group of skinny people at MODE Magazine. What Betty lacks in outer-beauty, however, she more than makes up for in heart and inner beauty. She knows what she looks like and is aware that she doesn’t fit in but she almost never lets it get to her.
Betty’s inability to fit in at MODE is just the general premise to the series. In truth, Betty lives in two different worlds. By day, she’s working at MODE as the assistant to the editor-in-chief, Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius). She spends her time arranging Daniel’s schedule, fetching him lunch and often coming to his rescue when one of Daniel’s many rivals attempts to sabotage him. Among those rivals is Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa L. Williams), the creative Director at MODE who wants Daniel’s job.
By night, Betty heads home to Queens to be with her father, Ignacio, older-sister, Hilda, and nephew, Justin. The Suarez family is the polar opposite of MODE. While the MODE offices are very white and modern looking, the Suarez household is homey and colorful. The MODE employees don’t eat much and obsess over fashion. The Suarez family enjoys flan and empanadas and watches telenovelas. While Betty’s sister Hilda dresses well for a Queens gal, it is her son Justin who knows the most about the fashion industry.
The relationships in Ugly Betty are what makes the show so appealing to me. Whether its Betty’s relationship with her father, her sister, fellow employees, Christina (the Scottish seamstress at MODE), Marc (Wilhelmina’s uber-gay assistant), Amanda (the bitchy receptionist), or her boss Daniel, its always fun to see how the other characters interact with her. Then of course there’s the other characters’ relationships with each other. It’s amazing how many great characters there are in this series and how well the writers are able to put them in hilarious scenarios that are not only entertaining, but help drive the story arcs forward.
The story in season 1 bounces between Betty’s family, her work at MODE, and the mysterious woman who plots to take down Bradford Meade. Generally one would think the best moments of the show would pertain to Betty’s work life, but the drama surrounding her family provides a stark contrast to the superficial problems at MODE Magazine. This serves to add a bit of depth to the show as Betty’s family does much to define Betty as a person. Knowing where she comes from and why she is such a good person helps to make what she does at MODE all the more meaningful. What we come to find early in the series is that while Betty may stand out where she works, she has had more of a personal effect on the people she works with than they have on her. This is what makes Betty such a lovable character.
Ugly Betty is both humorous and surprisingly heartwarming for a dramedy series. Generally I would expect that the majority of viewers who watch the series are female but there really is something for everyone who likes a good story and a good laugh every now and then, even if you’re like me and know virtually nothing about fashion.
The Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season - The Bettyfied Edition DVD set is nicely packaged and comes with enough bonus features to keep any Betty fan thoroughly satisfied. The DVD cover features Betty’s “ugly” mug, complete with shiny, embossed braces and red glasses. The DVD jacket inside looks like a miniature copy of MODE magazine and contains the episode guide as well as pictures of all of the characters.
Before the main menu comes up, there are flashes of still-shots from the episodes featured on each disc accompanied by a loop of the Betty score. On the first disc, you have the option to listen to the commentary for the pilot episode. The commentary features the creator and executive producer Silvio Horta, the pilot’s director, Richard Shepard and Co-executive producer Teri Weinberg. They spend the bulk of the commentary talking about how they chose the locations for the pilot episode. There is some talk about the costumes, including how they found Betty’s glasses and their decision to give her braces. There could’ve been a bit more talk about how they brought the cast together and what their thought processes were in terms of establishing the relationships among the characters but there is a bit of that here and there. They also discuss their vision when creating the show, in general.
The rest of the commentaries are spread out among the other discs and give you a general idea of certain episodes from the actors’ perspectives. The commentary for “Fey’s Sleigh Ride” features actors Becki Newton and Micael Urie (Amanda and Marc). The one for “Sofia’s Choice” features Executive Producer/Actress Salma Hayek and Actor Eric Mabius (Sofia and Daniel). The commentary for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” features Actors Vanessa Williams (Wilhelmina) and Michael Urie (Marc St. James).
Aside from the audio commentaries, the rest of the bonus features are on the sixth disc. The first bonus feature found on the final disc is “Becoming Ugly,” a video that features the cast talking about Betty’s character. They also show America Ferrara’s Golden Globe acceptance speech, which I’m not ashamed to say brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear it. Ferrara truly gets her character.
The “A La MODE” bonus feature shows a behind-the-scenes look at the set and costumes within the show. The other featurette is “Green is the New Black” which shows how they’re able to film a series set in New York City (Queens and Manhattan) from a Hollywood soundstage. It’s really amazing what they’re able to do with green screens these days!
The final bonus features are the deleted scenes (about 30 random scenes) and the blooper reel, which predictably has a lot of clips of the cast cracking up in fits of giggles while shooting different scenes. Finally, disc six offers all of the previews, which played automatically at the beginning of disc one. All of the episodes feature a Spanish language track and the option for Spanish, French and English subtitles.
All 23 episodes from the first season of the series are included on the set. One thing that struck me as odd when viewing the first four episodes on the first disc was that the episodes are out of order compared to how they aired throughout the season. On disc one, you’ll find the pilot episode, followed by “Queens for a Day,” then “The Box and the Bunny” and “Swag.” During the season, the Bunny episode aired second followed by “Queen For a Day." “Swag” was the eleventh episode of the season and didn’t air until January. Strangely enough, the switch was only mildly noticeable as not much happens in these episodes to mess with the overall story-arc. The only thing that really stands out is the continuity pertaining to Betty’s relationship with Walter and a revelation about Wilhelmina’s mysterious friend. I have no idea why they re-ordered the episodes but if you’re watching the series for the first time, you might not even notice it. The rest of the episodes are arranged on the discs in the same order they appeared on television.