As suggested by the title of Ugly Betty, the show is all about Betty, Betty Suarez, and how she is less-than-Hollywood-attractive. So the very first image we see is of her face, all glasses and braces right in the camera. America Ferrera can say a lot with a few contortions of her brace face. As the camera pulls back we find that she is waiting in the opulent lobby of a building, waiting to be interviewed for a job. After a short, awkward conversation with a glamorous-looking woman, she is bounced out on her fat-by-Hollywood-standards butt. It’s not for lack of trying; her first few onscreen moments encapsulate all of this character’s eager, ambitious, sunny motivation. As the doors to Meade publications are slammed in her face, a distinguished looking figure watches from above.
Next we find Betty at home. One of the best things about this show is its self-referential humor, and we get a peek at that early; telenovellas fill the Suarez’s living room. But more on that later. Much is revealed about Betty’s father, sister, and nephew, as well as her boyfriend (Kevin Sussman of Big Bang Theory), in a handful of lines. Justin (Mark Indelicato), the nephew, is the standout here, exhibiting a flamboyance that strains the edges of his 10-year-old form; he will play a critical role in informing the audience about what’s happening in the fashion world.
That sphere is the next one we must get to know. Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius) is the newly appointed editor-in-chief of Mode Magazine, a publication of Meade, and the distinguished man from earlier is his father, the owner of the company.
Although this doesn’t look to be a big day in Betty’s life career-wise, it may be a big one personally. Rumor has it her boyfriend is about to propose. However, on TV expected breakups are always proposals and expected proposals are always… Walter is in love with someone else.
At the first commercial break, Betty gets The Call. She is being hired, after all, as assistant to the editor-in-chief at Mode. It seems too good to be true, and we know there are reasons forthcoming.
The parade of characters continues as we meet the Mode receptionist, Amanda, Vanessa Williams’ uberdiva Wilhelmina and her sycophantic assistant Mark. Then there’s this photographer guy who’s friends with Mark. And they save the best for last—Christina (Ashley Jensen), the wisecracking Scottish seamstress. She’s the only seemingly normal one.
Before we’re halfway in to this pilot, we’re caught up in so many colorful storylines and people swirling around Betty it’s easy to worry it will all turn into a brownish sludge. But each one if vivid enough to stand out among the rest.
Amanda is sleeping with Daniel. Daniel is sleeping with everyone. The former editor of the magazine may or may not be dead. Wilhelmina wants Daniel fired, and Daniel wants Betty to quit. And that’s just the beginning. It is very soap opera-y but that’s where the telenovella schtick comes in to play. By presenting these Mexican soap operas in parallel, Ugly Betty in effect parodies itself. We can forgive the schmaltz and buy in. There’s even a slight tear-jerker moment.
We don’t get to know Betty too well in this first episode, though we like her as we’re conditioned to like characters who make it in life by hard work and pluck rather than by looks and money. She’s pathetic enough to make us feel better about our lives, but sympathetic enough to hang with. So, we’re prepped and ready to go on this journey with her, knowing it’s going to be nothing if not interesting.