Question: I've seen a bunch of news items recently about Ugly Betty, and I was wondering what your opinion of it was. To me, the premise just seems awful. Like in The Devil Wears Prada, we've got an attractive woman who we're supposed to pretend is "ugly," and then we've got the cutting-edge topic of the fashion industry. Wow, it's not like anyone's made fun of them before. What's next, a sock-hop-and-ice-cream-social comedy? I like America Ferrera, but previous shows along this theme, such as Veronica's Closet and Less than Perfect, have just been shrill and annoying.
Answer: The worst sin in writing about or analyzing TV seriously is to judge a show simply by its premise. While it's entirely likely that you are predisposed not to enjoy Ugly Betty, it's always all about the execution. Ugly Betty is not a traditional sitcom, it's a hybrid of comedy and soap, and Betty herself is nothing like the heroine of Prada (Betty is much more extreme), except perhaps for her inexperience in this particular viper's den. Betty's close-knit Latino family life is also an essential part of the show. But even if it's true that the setting and the basic setup may be no more original than the latest spin on Cinderella or Jane Austen, it's all about what you do with the material, who you cast in it and whether magic happens. In the case of Ugly Betty, I think it does.