Thursday, February 22, 2007
The Ugly Truth
My profound loathe for Grey's Anatomy is by now the stuff of legend. I couldn't be more serious about the fact that if tomorrow morning the craft services truck on the set of this abysmally bad show exploded into a ball of flame, setting Patrick Dempsey's hair on fire, causing him to then run screaming into his fellow cast-members, systematically burning them alive one-by-one, I'd grab a nice cold beer and smile that justice had finally been served and the quality of network television had improved just a tiny bit.
Unfortunately, such a felicitous reckoning would still leave us with Ugly Betty.
Look, I don't want to rain on the fiesta of the many who strangely believe that this gruesome weekly spectacle constitutes a refreshing and brash step forward for the cause of Hispanic-American crossover television; but its popularity -- not to mention its beatification at the hands of a self-congratulatory Hollywood -- doesn't change one very simple fact: it's not a very good show. At face-value -- no pun intended -- its writing is pedestrian and hackneyed, essentially taking one premise and drawing it out not just for one hour, but for another and another and another. I get it. Betty's unattractive but plucky. She overcomes the animus/prejudice of those around her by the sheer force of her good nature, indomitable spirit and the powers she apparently derives from wearing the cape of little-known South-of-the-Border superhero Guadalajaraman. She proves that true beauty is on the inside and through this educates the ignorant, infuriates the vainglorious and fascinates everyone else -- occasionally without even meaning to.
Scratch the surface though, and there's something about the show that really rubs me the wrong way.
Ugly Betty is almost Wizard of Ozian in its disparate portrayals of cultures -- Hispanic vs. Anglo. Betty's co-workers -- her non-ethnic co-workers -- are almost exclusively cast as soulless and superficial; they're prosaic drones whose sole purpose seems to involve doing little more than creating a one-dimensional, monochromatic background against which Betty can so brilliantly contrast. Betty's own household meanwhile is a nearly insuppressible explosion of color, passion and pathos -- with her family portrayed as a bunch of delightfully charming, eminently lovable middle-class eccentrics. They're adorable, fun and above-all, progressive in their seemingly bottomless reservoir of acceptance and lack of prejudice.
It's easy to see which side of the cultural coin the producers come down on.
It goes without saying however that it's never a good idea to attempt to subvert one negative stereotype by perpetuating another -- particularly when the latter is cast in a villainous role.
I have no doubt that the creators of Ugly Betty and its titular star, America Ferrara, will continue to be diefied in the media and by Hollywoood simply for the ground they've broken -- and of course, because it's fashionable and fiscally prudent given the size of the Hispanic demographic which now calls the contiguous forty-eight home. I just wish that they'd created a show that was a little less insulting -- and a lot less dumb.
Anybody know Lou Dobbs's phone number?
Maybe he can get Betty deported.
Incidentally, I deserve a medal for not making a "Vote for Pedro" joke.
(About the picture -- I do my best to stay away from inside jokes on this site, but this time the opportunity was just too perfect. There was no way in hell I was going to force myself to stare at Ugly Betty's, well, ugliness everytime I opened the page -- amazingly though, when I ran "Ugly Betty" through Google image search, the above picture of Sam the Eagle came up. I post it for Matt K., Matt S., Chris, Spencer, Jayne -- and of course, Casey.)