'Ugly Betty': Why it mattered

ugly-bettyImage Credit: ABCIt is with a heavy heart that I will sit down to watch my last hour of the seminal television show Ugly Betty tonight. Say whatever you will about the quality of the show over the past couple seasons — it may have hit some rough patches creatively — but you can’t deny that Ugly Betty was one of the most beautiful, provoking, delightful dramedies to hit network television in the past decade. Here, in one of my last Ugly Betty posts ever on PopWatch, indulge me as I take a minute to celebrate why the Mode universe that I,  and many of you, so deliciously relished over the past four years truly did matter.

On a very personal note, Ugly Betty affected my life in several important ways. I remember watching the pilot back in May 2006, when I worked at a different TV magazine just before landing at Entertainment Weekly. I was mesmerized. Somehow, with just the right amount of wit and grandeur, the Betty creators had managed to put a go-get-‘em face — through one very beautiful, but supposedly “ugly,” girl played by American Fererra — on my own experience navigating the treacherous waters of the New York City publishing scene. In a way, ugly duckling Betty was a Mary Tyler Moore for a younger generation.

That pilot, right down to the fade-out song I once loved so, “Suddenly I See,” felt like someone had taken the past couple years of my life, candy-coated it, wrapped it in a Guadalajara poncho, and given it an 8 p.m. time slot on national television. Granted, I was not Betty. I did not work at a fashion magazine. I was not fighting all the bitchery and prejudice that she did. But I understood her plight in so many ways: her desire to reach her dreams, her wanton lust for writing, her near-constant feeling that she was an outsider. The show’s wildly successful run as the lead-in to Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights must have meant many other people did, too.

Once I did land at EW, just prior to Ugly Betty‘s launch, the show eventually became one of my beats. I blogged about it each week in a TV Watch column here on EW.com, reveled in the clever one-liners through Ugly Betty Bites posts, interviewed its amazing cast and its savvy creator Silvio Horta, and even wrote a book, Find Your Inner Ugly Betty, about how to extrapolate career advice from the show, as well as several others on television at the time. The show all about watching a young career girl move her way up through the ranks had rather unexpectedly and ironically become a boon for my own career.

But the show’s huge imprint on my personal life — and again, I’m sure the personal lives of lots of other people like me — is almost more indelible than all that. Some may think I’m getting too personal here (though I don’t really care because I don’t have secrets), but during the time the show was on, I came out as a gay man. Partly because it was high time. But also party because I felt comfortable with myself after watching the silly, yet steeped-in-reality portrayals of gay people on Ugly Betty. I felt alive after watching hours of a television show where being yourself was not only what people did, but celebrated heartily. Marc, and eventually Justin and a slew of the other characters, did not apologize for who they were. They were proud. So why shouldn’t I be? (And, truly, how can one blog about, write a book about, and obsess about such a gay show and, you know, not actually be gay?)

But the beauty of the show goes beyond those professional and personal reasons. Once a week, we wandered into a land that was at once ridiculously dreamy and shockingly real, where the focus was split between the preposterousness of Mode magazine and absoluteness of the Suarez family’s love. Betty made me wince for her pratfalls and see the good in everything; Wilhelmina made we fall over with her sharp one-liners, withering stares, and amazing fashions; Amanda and Marc made me cry tears of pure comedic joy; Justin made me ache for his bravery; Hilda made me see the best in people; and Ignacio made me feel like I was home. For an hour each week, it felt like a big ol’ serving of heart and soul was on television — something I desperately needed being 1,500 miles from my own family.

I used to write this in my Ugly Betty TV Watch column each week, but I literally cried at least once during each episode. The term “Puffs Moment” was coined by my colleague Michael Slezak, and it meant the time during each Ugly Betty hour where you felt your heart cave in and a tear streak your cheek. Recall: the moment Betty got the job at Mode, when Santos died, when Ignacio suffered a heart attack, when Marc met Cliff, when Justin walked onto that dance floor with Austin last week…the list goes on and on. The fact that the show so smartly and subtly portrayed the coming out of 16-year-old Justin last week is reason enough to love this show and understand why it was so important for network television.

Now, with the final hour of the show airing tonight, I feel like I’m losing a good friend who’s been there for me over the past four seasons. For its beauty, for its wit, for its heart, Ugly Betty mattered.

As for you readers out there, I’d love to share this bittersweet end with you. So tell me in the comments below: Why did Ugly Betty matter to you? How did the show touch your life?

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

Comments (295 total) Add your comment
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  • paige

    what a lovely post. Ugly Betty will be missed greatly. Many moments made me tear but nothing made me bawl like the first season finale and the season 2 premiere- Santos dying and Hilda locking herself in the room pretending he was there. Heartbreaking.

    • Dan

      I agree…what a lovely post indeed! Ugly Betty encouraged me to chase my dreams, be okay with myself as a gay man, and provided an weekly hour of a treat that made me laugh, cry, gasp, and be inspired. My favorite moment can’t be picked, there are too many, but Justins coming out and Marks commitment issues with Cliff resonated most. I will miss you Betty & co!

    • Beth

      @paige ditto. Those have to have been two of the most moving moments on television. The season 2 premier was both well-written and acted. I of course also cried in the last episode when Justin & Austin danced and the family just smiled at him.

      Finally, while most agree that season three was the low point in the series at large, that moment in the finale when Daniel texts Betty the simple “I need you,” while Cyndi Lauper Sarah McLachlan sang “Time After Time” made me bawl my eyes out.

    • Frank Anderson

      You can in fact deny that Ugly Betty was one of the most beautiful, provoking, delightful dramedies to hit network television in the past decade.
      Still, I thought this was a great read and a window into why some people enjoyed what I thought was a pretty awful show.
      I may have thought EW overdid it a bit giving UB as much coverage as they did, but I am glad I clicked on this post to find out more why they(you) felt compelled to. A+!

      • GoddessLu

        Ah but Frank, it’s all in the perspective because I think EW gave UB too little coverage, demoting the TV Watch to a Pop Watch. You’re an open minded guy though for reading on and your comments. As an “Ugly Betty” myself (who still sees herself that way when others no longer do) as well as being a Latina this show resonated so much with me. The one-liners (sometimes two) are what killed me every week though. This is one of the rare shows where I laughed out loud (with no one in the room) and always had a smile on my face after watching. Fabulous job Mr. Horta and many kudos and thanks to all the regular and special cast members (stunt casting actually made sense on this show). Sniff.

    • Scooter

      Okay, I had my own Puffs moment just from reading this post!

    • EricNYC

      That was a beautiful tribute to a truly beautiful, funny, touching, outrageous, campy, and important show. I also sobbed when Justin and Austin walked onto that dance floor, and I’m fully expecting to need my Kleenex right next to me tonight. This is one of my all time favorite shows. I just hope future generations will be as touched as we all have been through DVD and reruns. Thank you to everyone involved in making Ugly Betty such a wonderful experience over the last 4 years.

      • Ugly Jenny

        Where do you think I got my EW moniker? This show has meant so much to me and it’s bittersweet to see it all coming to an end. I’ve always said, that if for some crazy reason there was a movie made about my life I would want America Ferrera to portray yours truly!

    • Alan

      Great post, Tanner. How rare it is to find a show that truly embraced the wonder of being yourself and being proud of who you are. No other show did it like Betty. Others tried, in a shmaltzy way or a preachy way. I hope to take a lesson from this show and try to be proud of who I am. Thank God that this show was on the air, even for a few short years and even to low ratings. Thank God for Betty! We’ll miss u.

    • jennifer

      i didn’t start watching ugly betty til a few weeks ago. i bought the first 3 seasons on dvd and i have to say the season 2 premiere almost took me out. i was so surprised at the ending, it literally killed me. i love the show and can’t seem to stop watching it. maybe if the people like me had watched it when it was on tv then it might still be on. heres hoping to a movie to sew up loose ends

  • Nessa

    As Marc would say,”I swear on the abs of Mark Wahlberg” – I have never been so sad to see a show go off the air. Ugly Betty will truly be missed and will hopefully become an instant classic that we can see in syndication for years to come.

    • laura

      I agree with you!! I am crying just thinking about tonight!

  • adandre

    R.I.P Ugly Betty 2006-2010.

    You will be greatly missed.

  • Chad Concelmo

    So sad to see this show go. The honest, wonderful way they portray gay people alone is enough to make this revolutionary series unforgettable. Ugly Betty will be missed. :(

  • shonna

    beautifully written! i have been a loyal fan since day 1 but i must admit that i took the show for granted – i never watched it live -always dvr’d it but now that it’s ending i’m realizing that it really has been one of my favourite shows. i will really miss the characters – especially betty, marc, amanda and willie. the episode where we learned that santos had died (after being tricked into thinking he hadn’t been killed) was one of the best hours of television i have ever seen.

  • Elizabeth

    Like the Bones recap/preview last week by Mandi, its fun to read these PW posts written by smart, clever journalists who seem to enjoy their jobs. I didn’t watch the show, but I started during this last stretch, and I’ve looked forward to your posts since.
    I hope another show comes along for you Tanner, and you get to enjoy it and experience it as much as you did Betty. I’m seriously jealous of all of you ;) but appreciate the company during my soul-sucking days.

  • CIP

    I loved among other things the portrayal of a Latino family. Watching the Suarez was the first time I could identify a family similar to mine on US tv. I also loved the dead of Santos while Justin was doing west Side Story. A. Ferrera, V. Williams, A. Ortiz along the rest of a great ensemble gave wonderful, heartfelt performances thru the 4 seasons. Thanks a lot for a unique, wonderful show!!!

    • GoddessLu

      Ditto CIP. I have Season 1 on DVD and will likely go for 2-4. Another great show re Latino families on DVD that was only on for 1 season on PBS was An American Family. Edward James Olomos was the widower dad, Rachel Welch his sister, Constance Marie his daugther, etc. Again, not much viewership but well written, acted and true to life. Highly recommend it (can find it on eBay, if not other places like Amazon).

      • GoddessLu

        Plus Esai Morales–LOVE him.

  • SirLizard

    Tanner, there isn’t much that I can add. You said it all. Betty, and the rest of the gang, will be missed.

  • S

    I LOVE this show. I have watched every single episode and will truly miss all of the characters especially Willy, Marc and Amanda. Thanks for all the laughs Ugly Betty!

    • Brenda Barrett

      I’ve always loved the Claire/Willy rivalry and one of my all-time favorite scenes was when Claire and Willy were supposed to rendezvous one evening and each tried to dupe the other by sending a surrogate, instead: Marc was dressed as Willy and Claire’s fellow prison escapee was dressed as Claire — that whole sequence was HILARIOUS.

  • Lisa

    These past few episodes with Justin have been wonderful. I will certainly miss the Justin/Austin storyline.

    On that note could someone point in the direction of the good quality version of the Justin/Austin picture in that banner. I’ve been looking all over for it.

  • Belle

    Oh, how I will truly miss you Ugly Betty. I was there from the beginning and will be there from the end. Looking forward to repeats perhaps on Logo. Farewell my dear show and Screw you ABC for canceling it!

    • coco

      well said, screw you ABC!

      • Zoe

        Add a third one for me! Betty should have had at least one more year, IMO, in which they could have spent some actual time developing the Betty/Daniel relationship, the Hilda/Bobby marriage, the day-to-day aftermath of Justin’s coming out, Amanda’s stylist career, etc. These last couple eps have felt a little rushed. (I’ve loved them…but just a little rushed.)

      • Peter

        And a fourth Screw you ABC from me!
        I think there’s so much potential to develop the plot still and it’s SUCH a shame to see it go :( and even worse, see it rushed to an end by altering the plot.

        Ugly Betty brightened up my day, no matter how crappy a day I was having. I didn’t miss a single episode and loved every minute of it.
        To Betty Suarez, Mark St James, Amanda Tannen,Justin and Hilda, Daniel, Willy, and the rest of the cast and production, a huge thank you for the years of fun you have provided – you will truly be missed.

      • laura

        Screw you ABC!!!

      • Frances

        SCREW YOU, ABC!!!!!

    • becky

      Screw you
      ABC !!!

  • Kpryde

    Ugly Betty Mattered to me because it broke the mold by being a show that portrayed a confident, powerful, smart and funny woman, that wasn’t tall, thin and blonde. Betty became an icon for all those girls who don’t fit in, and gave them hope that if they are confident in who they are, if they’re kind, they can succeed in any dream they have regardless of our superficial world.

    • carolina

      I agree completely with your comment. That’s what drew me in and kept me a faithful watcher.

    • Dee

      Absolutely – UB made a lot of people feel more secure with who they are in their own lives, even if their world didn’t reflect the heightened world of Mode. Such a beautiful tribute to a gem of a show.

  • Jen

    SO sad to see Ugly Betty go, but this is a beautiful tribute to a fantastic, groundbreaking show.

  • akasmer

    It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about a show being cancelled prematurely. Ugly Betty had so much more life in it. Unlike other shows that drag on for years with no direction, this was not one of them. The show thru all its seasons never lost its voice or its style. It still hasn’t hit me that it’s over tonight. The characters of this show were so well developed, and so awesome. I’m going to miss them.

    • @akasmer

      With all due respect, this show ran out of gas two seasons ago. While this year they tried to recapture some of the magic, it was simply too little, too late. The only people that can be blamed for Betty’s demise is the writers, who took such a promising show and ran it into the ground with their horrible storylines, particularly in season 3.

      • Liz

        I would agree BUT this season has been great, like way better than season 1 great. I’m really sad that it hit such a creative high just as it was cancelled.

      • maria66

        i have to agree too. I watched every episode out of loyalty but i wish the writers would have been more consistent in Season 3. I could have done without the entire Daniel marriage/widower story. I always felt Daniel needed to grow but still keep some of his badassness

      • wow

        Am I the only one who liked Season 3 way more than Season 2?

      • Maiv

        Yeah, season 3 is where it started to go downhill, but I thought that they definitely started to redeem themselves more recently.

  • R

    Wonderful post. I started watching UB from the pilot, and from then on, minus a few months here and there where it lost its footing, it became my feel-good hour of the TV week. I can’t think of many other shows which have the warmth UB does. I started watching UB because I had seen a version of the show from a different country, and I wanted to watch the Daniel/Betty romance unfold. Tonight, whether that happens or not seems to be up in the air, but I realize that even though my main objective in watching the show may not be fulfilled, I discovered a great show separate of that along the way. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Betty as well. Hopefully there will be an UB movie.

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