TV Reviews: Ugly Betty' is pretty good
Share with others:
There's no denying the charm of the pilot episode of ABC's "Ugly Betty" (8 tonight), but as enjoyable as this first episode is, its premise may be too slight to sustain a long-running series.
Talented actress America Ferrera ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") bubbles with enthusiasm as Betty Suarez, a plump, braces-wearing, fashion-challenged young woman who lacks model looks but has brains and heart aplenty.
When publishing mogul Bradford Meade (Alan Dale) grants the editorship of his fashion magazine, Mode, to his womanizing son, Daniel (Eric Mabius), he hires Betty in hopes that Daniel will finally have an assistant he won't charm the pants off of.
That doesn't go over well with jealous receptionist Amanda (Becki Newton) or editrix Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), who was gunning for the plum job Daniel got. Betty makes friends with Mode seamstress Christina (Ashley Jensen, "Extras") and at home she gets encouragement from her father (Tony Plana) and fashion-loving nephew (Mark Indelicato). (Look carefully and you'll see Salma Hayek, one of the show's executive producers, in a cameo on the telenovela that plays on the family TV.)
"Ugly Betty" is based on a popular Colombian telenovela ("Yo soy Betty, la fea") that aired from 1999-2001, a short duration for an American show, but perfectly acceptable for the tell-the-story-and-end-it format of telenovelas.
ABC's version sets up an untenable and repetitive cat-and-mouse game as Betty tries her best, gets stumped temporarily by her workplace enemies and then triumphs in the end, bringing out a little bit of Daniel's buried humanity along the way.
This lack of opportunity for growth -- the show's best selling point, Betty, can't evolve too much or the series is over -- may even be the raison d'etre for a goofy ongoing plot about the shadowy former Mode editor who's presumed dead but may actually be in seclusion, biding her time before staging a comeback.
Here's hoping the "Betty" writers will find a way out this corner so the show's anything-but-ugly title character can stick around for a while.
'EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS'
Not that anyone will ever see it again now that The CW has shipped this former UPN Thursday night series to Sunday Siberia (7 p.m., WPCW, Channel 19), but "Everybody Hates Chris" continues to elicit laughs in its sophomore season.
Sunday's premiere bids farewell to Chris' neighbor crush and introduces a few other girls for him to get nervous about. Whoopi Goldberg also checks in for a recurring role as a neighbor who clashes with Chris' mom (the wonderful Tichina Arnold).
Chris (Tyler James Williams) tries to get advice on asking a girl out from school friend Greg (Vincent Martella), which leads to an experiment that narrator Chris Rock dubs "Brokeback Hallway."
Although "Chris" deserves better than this easy-to-ignore time period, at least it's a good tonal match. "Chris" remains one of the few prime-time comedies that's generally family-friendly, a treat for both children and parents to watch together.
Too bad viewers will have a hard time finding "Chris," because The CW's new sitcom "The Game" (8:30 Sunday, WPCW) is the show that deserves a red flag. A spin-off from "Girlfriends" (9 p.m. Sunday), "The Game" follows the jealous women who cling to pro football players in San Diego.
Tia Mowry ("Sister, Sister") stars as Melanie Barnett, a med school student who decides in the first episode to follow her rookie boyfriend, Derwin (Pooch Hall), to his first away game in Miami after some of the other women convince her away games are a cheater's paradise.
"No cherry-blossom-body-wash-hoochie smell, that's good," says Kelly (Brittany Daniel), after checking out the room Derwin is staying in.
You'd think after UPN tasted success with "Chris" that the succeeding network (run by the former UPN Entertainment president) would strive for something better, something funnier.
"The Game" lacks the relationships that made "Girlfriends" a qualified UPN hit and the comedy to make it much of anything for The CW.
First Published September 28, 2006 12:00 am