‘Ugly Betty’ – telenovella American style on Netflix and Hulu

America Ferrera is Betty Suarez, a lovably geeky fashion disaster from Queens who is suddenly transported into the middle of a trend-setting fashion rag in Manhattan, in Ugly Betty: Complete Series (2006-2010).

The City College graduate aspires to a career in publishing and winds up as the personal assistant to the editor of “Mode.” Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), the publisher’s playboy son, is a sexaholic who hits on every curve that wiggles through the door, which is exactly why his father (Alan Dale) hires Betty, with her garish braces and American kitsch wardrobe. The naïve, unfailingly polite sweetheart from a middle class household is there to keep Daniel’s focus on his job.

Betty, thrilled at her job, is the fashion equivalent of a Midwest casserole dish at Spago’s and she becomes the resident punchline among the style-savvy assistants (purring tiger of a receptionist Becki Newton and flamboyant toady Michael Urie) who sabotage her at every turn. Luckily she finds support in another overlooked part of the “Mode” team, Christina (Ashley Jensen), who manages “the closet,” which is company’s vast wardrobe. There’s even a shot at romance with Henry (Christopher Gorham), the magazine’s endearingly square accountant.

Vanessa Williams plays the conniving fashion vampire Wilhelmina, who schemes to get the editor’s chair throughout the course of the series. Rebecca Romijn livens things up with her memorable entrance halfway through the season as sibling Alexis Meade and Salma Hayek, who is also executive producer of the show, appears as a guest star in the first season as a fellow editor.

But there’s also another story back with Betty’s family in Queens: her supportive, soft-spoken father (Tony Plaza), single-mom sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz), and her fashion-mad nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato). There’s a loving warmth in the family home that gives Betty the strength to keep chasing her dreams in Manhattan, and it carries over to the teenage Justin, whose interests lead him down a road his family didn’t expect.

It’s adapted from the Colombian telenovela “Yo Soy Betty La Fea,” the first American such take on the telenovela, and it plays like a serialized version of The Devil Wears Prada with a goofball twist. It’s pure, catty soap opera with a wink and a nod, full of madcap plot twists (blackmail, murder, a sex-change operation, a prison break) and colorful characters delivering zingy one-liners. The first season finds its footing about halfway through and builds to an event-filled finale that packs in practically every cliché imaginable, all backed by the music from a high school production of “West Side Story.” The second season of the tongue-in-cheek soap opera tosses in even more madcap plot twists: Alexis gets amnesia, Dad is deported, Mom is a murderer who escapes from jail, and a member of the “Mode” staff discovers her secret her true paternity. And Lindsay Lohan guest stars in the third season.

Through it all, Betty develops self-confidence and style. Show moves out of the comfort of the family home for the catty culture of Manhattan’s beautiful people and corporate wolves and watches her nephew blossom. Even the snotty Amanda evolves, leaving reception desk for her own career. The producers had enough of a heads up to bring back characters from past seasons, wrap up intrigues, send current characters off to new futures ,and even give a little love to favorite villains. But the big news: Betty finally gets those braces off!

It won three Emmy Awards, including a best actress for America Ferrara and a directing trophy for the pilot episode, plus awards from the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild.

85 episodes over four seasons.

Rated TV-PG

Streams for a limited on Netflix and on Hulu

Also on DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Ugly Betty: Season 1 [DVD]
Ugly Betty: Season 2 [DVD]
Ugly Betty: Season 3 [DVD]
Ugly Betty: Season 4 [DVD]

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Available on DVD with multiple commentary tracks on each season box set, along with featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and other supplements.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.