Behold Ugly Betty, a paint-by-numbers sendup of the fashion industry, culled from the pages of Devil Wears Prada and Pret-a-Porter. Gee, will there be a catty gay assistant? An arrogant Eurotrash photographer who beds lotsa ladies? Will Betty, the ungainly newcomer, bump into doorways and commit a damnable fashion faux pas? Trade Anne Hathaway’s clunky loafers for Betty’s Guadalajara poncho, and voila, a new ABC show.
The show has received kudos for its depth—“It differs from Prada,” claims Virginia Heffernan of the Times, “mainly in its focus on inner beauty, rather than outer. (No makeover montages here.)” What there is, however, is a perpetuation of the smart/ugly girl myth, and its comely reverse, the attractive bimbo. Just as in Prada, the unlikely ed assistant never imagined herself having a career in the fashion sphere. Could it be she’s banking on the New Yorker, New York Times, Harper’s? Prime time is no time to vary from the formula.
There are one or two high points, mainly, the casting of America Ferrara as Ugly Betty; she brings an intelligence and warmth to the role, and gives her an authenticity not seen in the rest of the cast of tired fashion stereotypes. In molding the other characters, the producers would actually do better to crib not from Prada but Simon Doonan’s column for the Observer, “Simon Says”. (We’re particularly fond of his one on the raw-food trend and a lamentation for the closed Times Square Hojo.) The finest skewerings of the industry come from those well-entrenched.