Television Throwback: ‘Ugly Betty’

There have been few shows that held my interest through the entirety of the series. I have found that by the third or fourth season, the characters lose the qualities that made them relatable and enjoyable from the beginning. One of the shows that has the prestigious honor of hooking me from the beginning and keeping me engrossed is Ugly Betty. I have always wished this show lasted more than four seasons. So, recently I decided to binge watch Ugly Betty and see if I still connect with it more than 10 years after it premiered.

As I re-watched the first season, it became apparent that I now relate to Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrera, even more. From her drive to be a journalist (I thought at 10 that I would be a fashion designer) to her comfort from not fitting in, Betty is a great representation of an authentic television character. She is Latina, and her culture is celebrated on the show rather than used as a way to portray her as an underdog. She experiences a love triangle. But unlike so many tired and predictable resolutions, she chooses to find herself rather than settle down with one guy so early on in her twenties. She recognizes that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to further your career. Plus, despite not usually caring what other people think about her, there are moments when she doubts herself and her confidence is shaken.

But, what really makes this show a classic is the comedic writing. Although I now fully understand the inconsiderate jokes Betty experiences, I still enjoy the “mean-cliché” she faces at Mode. Betty’s ability to navigate the fashion industry and see the best aspects of her superficial co-workers, Marc, Amanda and Wilhelmina, made me also see them in a positive light. Ugly Betty is the only show I have watched where the “villains” do not have only one redeeming moment or episode that makes the audience understand their motives. Throughout the series, Marc, Amanda and Wilhelmina continue to make sassy remarks and poor decisions, but they also have larger storylines that make them more than sidekicks with awful intentions. None of the characters are pigeonholed with one role on this series. Everyone has a bigger purpose and invisible scar.

The closest characters to Betty are also flawed. Her relationship with her father, sister and nephew becomes strained in moments when they question Betty putting work before family. While they sometimes do not approve of decisions, they are a constant support system in her life. Their family dynamic adds to Betty’s mentor connection with her boss, Daniel. Betty is typically the one who disagrees with Daniel’s actions and helps him, but they still continue to learn and grow from each other’s mistakes. One of the highlights of each episode is watching Betty and Daniel realize that despite their age differences and drastically different upbringings they will never figure everything out or always do the right thing.

Ugly Betty has a universal appeal to it. Anyone can relate to the constant themes of feeling like an outsider or learning to navigate the career world. Revisiting Ugly Betty has given me a newfound appreciation for this show and its effortless ability to make me feel invested in each of the character’s lives and support them in spite of their faults. I continue to discover special moments that the 10-year-old me didn’t notice, but the 20-year-old me needs to hear.