So who else watched Ugly Betty‘s series finale? Just me, huh? Sigh.
2006 was a great year for American scripted television. It saw the debut of personal favorites 30 Rock, Dexter, Big Love, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (shut up!), and Ugly Betty. Not to mention fan favorites such as Jericho, Eureka, Brothers & Sisters and Psych among others that I don’t really care about. Of course, it also gave us Hannah Montana, Flavor of Love and The Hills but Ace of Cakes and Top Chef make up for that, I think. Let us pretend, anyway.
Four years later, 30 Rock and Dexter are going as strong as ever although it’ll be interesting to see how far and how long they can keep it up on the latter. Friday Night Lights could never quite match up to that perfect first season that about 10 of us watched alongside every single TV critic, but this red headed step child of NBC will finally call it quits next year after being shunted off to DirecTV two years ago. Big Love was recently renewed for a fifth season but I’ve stopped caring. Studio 60 famously, and deservedly, bit it the very first season.
And now it’s Ugly Betty. None of the series that caught my fancy that year were anything like each other in tone or writing or characters but Betty was the standout. It was smart, funny, heartwarming, and fun. Everything from its premise to its cast and crew made you sit up and take notice. When Betty (America Ferrera) walked into the offices of Mode wearing that horrendous poncho, it immediately spoke to the repressed memories of faux pas past.
Over that first season, as Betty and her braces found their feet at Mode, we met a bunch of insane, narcissistic, borderline evil, shallow, over-enthusiastic, painfully naive, freaks who totally won us over. And then the second and third seasons happened, and most of us got over it. Opinion is divided as to why.
Executive producer Silvio Horta thinks they should have let America (Ferrera) be America – i.e. jaw-droppingly gorgeous – a lot sooner rather than waiting for this last season to take the fake braces off. I can definitely see how the changed dynamic might have breathed new life into the show (it certainly did it for the last few episodes albeit in truncated fashion), and appreciate that the writers were probably forced to trim a season’s worth of storylines into three episodes.
Critic Dave Hiltbrand thinks it was the opposite: the whole thing became too fairy-tale-ish once Betty starting upgrading her boyfriends to multi-millionaire levels. Which: are we talking about the same multi-millionaire? Because Matt “I’m a victim of my good fortune” Hartley was my least favorite of Betty’s boyfriends. Even Walter was more interesting.
People who stuck by it to the bittersweet end think it was just the timing that did it in.
All I can say is that this was a cancellation that did not come out of the blue as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t crossing my fingers, I didn’t throw a tantrum about TPTB canceling everything good on TV and it wasn’t writing furious emails to anyone. But the last three episodes made up for all that.
From the Suarez family dealing with Justin’s sexuality (“What is wrong with you people?” a horrified Marc breathes in one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen – so much so, I won’t spoil it for you); Hilda getting her happy ever after; Amanda getting her heart’s desire after claiming the “orange doughnut”; Wilhemina succeeding on sheer merit after she and Claire get their Dynasty on; Marc standing up for himself after playing guardian angel to Justin; Daniel falling for his best friend; to Betty walking tall and gorgeous through the crowded streets of London – it was perfect.
The thing I loved most about Betty was its writing; its ability to take heavy issues and cringe-inducing situations, and handle them with grace and humor without diminishing its import. Somewhere between seasons 2 and 3, it lost that and turned into various characters’ endless audition for romance. They paid the price for that but made amends with these last three episodes, but especially the finale.
Maybe they’ll go the Sex and the City route and turn it into a movie franchise (I’ll watch!), but I love where they left everybody.