”Ugly Betty”: Can this be love?
It takes a show as genuinely quirky as Betty to pull off a mid-episode horror-movie spoof. The segment served to answer a burning question: Does Eric Mabius look as good in period dress as he does in a power suit? The answer, friends, is yes. (BTW, your regular TV Watcher, Tanner Stransky, is on vacation and will be back next week).
Although the torch-wielding villagers were pursuing Betty, much of tonight’s episode centered on the relationships between the show’s embattled patriarchs and their children. Bradford made Alec Baldwin look like a model parent as he coldly informed Alexis that she was nothing to him. In Queens, Ignacio defended Hilda’s honor, telling her louse of a baby daddy to back the hell off. And Santos himself spouted Broadway trivia to prove how serious he was about being with Hilda and Justin. (It would’ve been really impressive if he’d actually hummed a tune from Sunset Boulevard, but hey).
I absolutely love this show. I do. Still, I have a major problem with the fact that so many of its characters — Bradford, Walter, even Amanda — are totally cardboard. We do get the rare bit of compassion or sadness from them (witness Marc’s coming out to Mama LuPone), but though I think they’re funny, when I compare them with fleshed-out Betty, Henry, Daniel, and even Wilhelmina, I can’t help thinking that Betty’s often fluffy story lines would benefit if these people had a little more soul.
For someone who enjoys such stable relationships with the men in her family, Betty has an awfully hard time relating to the opposite sex once she journeys into Manhattan. Lately, Daniel’s been treating our heroine like dirt, constantly calling her to come straighten out his messes, then chastising her — ”you’re my assistant, not my friend” — when she gets attached. It was so great to see her finally take a stand with Daniel, following through on last week’s sullen ”I clocked out.” Yet I’m tired of her always solving Daniel’s problems as if they were mysteries of the week. (The model-buying-cigarettes flashback made this feel like an episode of Suarez P.I.) Still, while she was angry and MIA, how cute was Henry? Homeboy had Betty’s back, acting as a stand-in confidant for the distraught, duped Daniel. (And as an aside, were the Meades in a mead-induced stupor tonight or what? You’d think a manipulative man like Bradford would suspect Wilhelmina was playing him. And why didn’t Daniel ask for proof of the model’s age right after her mother made the statutory-rape accusation?)
PS: I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help hoping Betty will one day fall into Daniel’s arms (the dream of anyone who’s carried a torch for a superior). Anyone with me here?
Finally, Alexis left the pack of one-dimensional supporting players, revealing that underneath all that ball-busting bravado, she’s as insecure and vulnerable as a teenage girl. Though she’s had moments of weakness in previous episodes, this was the first time I really felt it. Right off the bat, we suspected Mr. Unpronounceable Last Name was being bribed to lure her far, far away from New York. What’s with these Mode editors? With the exception of Daniel, is every last one of them — from Fey to Alexis’ date — a conniving, manipulative egomaniac? But I suspect most of you will tell me to lighten up, and that Betty’s calling card is that it’s so over the top. After tonight’s sequined ”global warming” photo shoot, there can be little doubt of that.
Heading back to the boroughs, I loved how the writers used Justin to temper what is really a heated social issue. ”We need a party with a theme,” he told his illegal-alien grandfather, Ignacio. How about ”crossing the border?” Olé! And the bond between Justin and Hilda continues to evolve sweetly. I’m always pleasantly surprised that despite their closeness in age, they never fall into the Gilmore Girls trap of ”friends first, mother and child second.” Nor does Justin assume the parental role. Mark Indelicato (who, FYI, once appeared in a production of the musical Evita) continues to be TV’s most likable kid actor. With his singing, dancing, and fashion sense, it’s only a matter of time before Justin is the youngest intern at Mode.
Over in Bitchy Underling Land, the perennially single Marc did his version of deep thinking: ”I’m not an expert at moving past the sex because, well, why?” I can’t decide if I want Amanda to finally have a meaningful relationship or if I want that heavily muscled, faux-mo designer to hook up with her gay best bud instead. Meanwhile, the relationship between Henry and Betty putters along. So far, it’s managed to avoid becoming a cliché, as each character continues to grow. We saw a new side of Henry tonight as he encouraged Daniel to fight the blackmailers, and — all credit to America Ferrera — we see her fall more in love with him every week. He’s a cutie, but Henry needs to learn that shy and quiet just doesn’t work for nice guys. Grow a pair, ditch the Clinger, and take Miss Suarez on a real date. Please, Henry, while the relationship still interests us (and you).
With each passing day, Betty seems more and more confident in her own untrendy skin. This week, she barely flinched when Henry caught her using a clothing steamer on her bangs (ha) — whereas the self-conscious Amanda would have been mortified. And how great was the prom-night flashback? The guests at a certain SoHo hotel would surely recognize that cotton-candy-puff of a gown, and it’s nice to see that, while she’s still 2,000 leagues from glam, Betty has made a few improvements since high school. (And we finally got to see why she needs those mammoth braces. Keep ‘em, kid!)
My favorite moments of the night? That random giant blue and green face being carted past the Mode reception desk — hopefully it was en route to a photo shoot and not to someone’s office wall, because that thing was so Cirque du Soleil. And since all good things happen in Queens, I give you this immortal Justinism: ”Aunt Betty, you are so theater.”
All right, Mode subscribers, let’s get your feedback. Is Hilda making a huge mistake by agreeing to marry deadbeat Santos? What’s really stopping Bradford from divorcing his wife? Do you love the strange, ever-changing friendship between Willy and Alexis? And if you died and had to be cremated, who would you want to be sprinkled over? Oh, never mind.