Why it’s worth revisiting Ugly Betty: the comedy-drama cut down in its prime

Despite facing cancellation after a four-year run, 2006 comedy-drama Ugly Betty deserved to live on and will hopefully pick up new fans on Disney Plus, Lauren Morris writes.

Ugly Betty

Over the last 15 years, the TV landscape has changed considerably, with streamers and broadcasters churning out multiple binge-worthy titles each month in a bid to become social media’s latest obsession. It’s therefore easy to forget that mid-noughties America produced some absolute television gems aside from frequently-revisited seminal classics like The Sopranos, The Wire and The Office US.

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From Desperate Housewives and 24, to Scrubs and Lost, a number of these Millennial favourites are arriving on tomorrow courtesy of the platform’s new add-on Disney Plus Star – but of all the Disney Plus Star content set to join the service, it’s worth taking another look at Ugly Betty: the 2006 comedy-drama cancelled too soon.

Based on a Columbian telenovela, Ugly Betty stars America Ferrera as the titular 22-year-old, who manages to land a job as the assistant to womanising Editor-in-Chief Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius) at Mode, a Vogue-esque fashion magazine, despite her severe lack of fashion sense.

The fast-paced, witty comedy-drama was groundbreaking on a number of levels, the most significant one being representation. Focussed around Mexican American protagonist Betty Suarez who lives with her father Ignacio, older sister Hilda and her fashion-obsessed gay nephew Justin, Ugly Betty had a huge cultural impact in showcasing Hispanic and LGBT+ stories and was recognised in the United States Congress by California congresswomen Hilda Solis in 2007 for doing so.

Ugly Betty also stood out amongst its fellow TV neighbours for revolving around a main character who didn’t fit the mould of female series leads previously set by your Sarah Jessica-Parkers, Teri Hatchers and Cobie Smulders.

While Betty was far from ugly, she was a determined poncho-wearing woman with aggressive adult braces, bushy eyebrows and a three-dimensional personality who audiences could immediately relate to despite rarely seeing characters like her on screen before. A frequently under-estimated underdog, the series followed Betty as she fought for her place at Mode – the fashion magazine parody full of catwalk models, gossiping receptionists and botox-injecting executives.

Ugly Betty
Hilda and Betty in Ugly Betty
Disney

The show ran for four seasons on ABC before being prematurely cancelled in 2010, just as Betty was beginning to rise up the ranks within the company and flirt with the possibility of beginning a relationship with Daniel, who had made real strides in terms of character development over the last four years.

Aside from the two main leads, Betty and Daniel, audiences had also fallen in love with the stellar cast of supporting characters within the show. Vanessa Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater was the glamorous villain of the show – Mode’s conceited Creature Director with similar vibes to Miranda Priestly and an appetite for revenge after Daniel Meade was promoted to Editor-in-Chief over her.

Meanwhile, Michael Urie perfectly encapsulates Marc St. James, Wilhelmina’s loyal assistant, constantly firing catty insults at Betty and repeatedly conspiring with Daniel’s receptionist ex Amanda (Becki Newton) to ruin the editor’s career.

Wilhelmina and Daniel in Ugly Betty
Wilhelmina and Daniel in Ugly Betty
Disney

While Ugly Betty had built up plot-related momentum by its fourth year, ABC chose to end the series due to low ratings – however, the  show and its telenovela-inspired style clearly paved the way for future series like Jane the Virgin and won a host of awards during its run, including three Emmys and two Golden Globes.

The show was even ahead of its time when it came to guest stars, with international super star Adele making a brief cameo and the likes of Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Shakira stopping by to play themselves. RuPaul even guest-starred in an episode as Rudolph, a Wilhelmina Slater drag impersonator.

With the comedy-drama, created by the late Silvio Horta, now available on Disney Plus’ star, hopefully its cult status will be renewed and a new generation of viewers will appreciate Ugly Betty for the beautiful show it is.

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Ugly Betty is available on Disney+ from Tuesday 23rd February. Sign up to Disney+ for £5.99 a month or save 15% with the annual plan for £59.99. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our list of the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus, or visit our TV Guideto see what’s on tonight.