Judge Kristin Munson is ugly on the inside.
Our reviews of Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season (published September 5th, 2007), Ugly Betty: The Complete Third Season (published September 22nd, 2009), and Ugly Betty: The Complete Fourth And Final Season (published August 23rd, 2010) are also available.
"You make it really hard for me to live vicariously through
Ugly Betty hit the airwaves in 2006 and was a perfect size 10 right out of the gate. Thanks to the Writer's Strike, production turnover, and a bloated cast, season two loses some of its fizz but is still a giddy pleasure.
Facts of the Case
Ugly Betty went out with a bang in its first season finale, with cliff-hangers that included an overdose, a car crash, a mini-mart hold-up, a prison break, a pregnancy, and two maternity revelations.
In Season Two the bespectacled girl in the big city returns for 18 more frenetic episodes, complete with a birth, two major deaths, and more snark than you can shake a stick-thin model at.
The countdown is on for the big wedding between magazine mogul Bradford Meade and the scheming Wilhelmina Slater. Meanwhile, Bradford's son, Daniel, is left to deal with running Mode magazine, a mother on the lam, and a transsexual sister with amnesia. Marc and Amanda try to parlay her new status as daughter of murdered Mode editor Fey Sommers into fame, fortune, and maybe finding her daddy, and Christina is tracked down by her estranged husband. Somewhere among all these subplots, Betty tries to sort out her feelings for Henry, her father's immigration problem, and the changes she sees in herself. Realizing she's ditched her own dreams to become her boss's babysitter, Betty starts getting back to her roots and trying to become real writer.
There's something awfully familiar about Ugly Betty's second season. The series used up most of the obvious soap opera twists in its inaugural year and hits a bit of a sophomore slump when it comes to creating the big stories. A different love triangle for Betty. Another whirlwind relationship that ends badly for Daniel. More immigration woes and magazine battles. Luckily, the characters are still as colorful and the quips just as quippy otherwise, Betty would be just another series that crashed and burned after one glorious season.
A lot of hugging and learning clutters up the character arcs, but Ugly Betty is at its best when it's taking a cue from its telenovela roots and not trying to wring every drop of juice from our heartstrings. Except for a slap-in-the-face season premiere—which pulls a mean last act stunt that even Dallas wouldn't stoop to until season 9—and a dramatic misstep where Wilhelmina tampers with her mentally ill sister's medication, Betty lets far-fetched comedy rule each hour.
If you don't like a particular subplot, give it two episodes and it's gone. The series tries on storylines and rejects them again faster than a fifth avenues shopper. Part of that is to give each member of the huge cast (the slipcase case features a mind-boggling 13 characters) something to do, and part of it is because of all the producers, writers, and showrunners who got the boot over the course of the season before storylines could be finished. Despite the creative changes, the show squeaks by on the strength of its actors and your own desire to see what's going on with your established favorites.
Wilhelmina's plots may be outlandish enough to rival a Bond villain, but Vanessa Williams can sell scheming bitch better than Joan Collins, and Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) as Betty's new sutor, Gio, provides the necessary rakish charm to offset Henry's unbelievable niceness. My heart belongs to Willy's flamboyant sycophant, Marc, whom Michael Urie has taken from bitchy stereotype to foppish delight. This season, Marc dates an adorkable photographer and does some more bonding with Betty's nephew, Justin, while keeping the witty edge that makes him so fun to watch.
Ugly Betty: The Complete Second Season is presented in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the series' highly-saturated color scheme, and a nice but unnecessary 5.1 surround audio track. The set comes with a fold out map of series locations with disc listings on the back, but there are no synopses on the booklet or chapter menus on the discs, which is a pain because there's so much going on in an episode that it's hard to remember what happens when.
The commentary tracks started on Season 1 have been scrapped, and for Season Two extras we instead get "On Set With the Besties," with Michael Urie (Marc) and Becki Newton (Amanda) giving a tour of the Mode sets with pop-up production trivia and Mark Indelicato (Justin) and Tony Plana (Ignacio) taking over for "The Suarez Tour." "I Heart Betty" and "Wilhelmina Slater: Love to Hate Her" are fluff pieces about Betty's romances and Willy's schemes. Full length versions of the telenovelas that played in the Suarez home over the season, deleted scenes, and a blooper reel round out the features. Like the season itself, it's nice, but nothing special.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The biggest problem with this season of Ugly Betty is the frequency with which the writers punch the reset button. Every time a character makes some progress in solving a plot problem or taking a personal step forward it gets reversed or ignored in the next episode. Betty's not-quite-relationship with Henry finally gets off the ground at the close of "A League of their Own" only to bite the dust midway through "Something Wicked This Way Comes" so that their reconciliation can also be the big moment at the end of that episode. Just when you think the tired Daniel/Alexis rivalry has been put to bed it magically becomes an issue again to add conflict to the closing episodes.
The writers spend weeks putting off their big events and then tie them up in ways that suggest they never had a plan to begin with, or that the one guy who knew how things turned out had gotten pink-slipped. This makes Betty a series perfectly suited to DVD: a disappointing wrap-up is more forgivable when the wait is three hours and not three weeks.
Betty's candy-colored world is a little soapy, a little sappy, and always snappy. Despites suffering some growing pains, Ugly Betty wobbles but doesn't topple. Season 2 offers fewer episodes and less extras for the same price as Season 1, but it's still one of the best shows that network TV has to offer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
• On Set With the Besties
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