The beauty of Ugly Betty

I’m starting to get a little pissed off here. First Guiding Light, then As The World Turns. And then a few months ago, after an amazing season, Ugly Betty was cancelled.

Ugly Betty is an especially sad loss, because the show really had a lot of life in it. It could have easily run at least another season, perhaps two. The cast was filled with fantastic characters and classic soapy stories. Some of this year’s stories – especially the story of Justin’s coming out and Hilda and Bobby’s pairing – have been fantastic.

But Betty did hit a few bumps in the road, and lost many viewers because of some of those mistakes. The latter part of season 2 and early season 3, in particular, seemed to land in a rut. These are some of the same mistakes daytime soaps continue to make.

Among the potholes:

SAINT BETTY: Betty’s journey was the main thrust of the show, but for too long Betty was not drawn as a fully human character. She was automatically white-coated as The Saint to juxtapose Betty against characters like Wilhelmina, Marc and Amanda.

BEATING A DEAD HORSE: The show spent entirely too much time on Betty’s relationship with Henry. What initially seemed exciting was smothered with every single soap cliche. Betty and Henry went back and forth so often and were so put upon (hello, Luke and Noah!) that eventually the audience stopped caring.

FROZEN IN TIME: Betty was definitely in limbo for too long. We should have seen more of a metamorphosis in those seasons, but instead we saw Saint Betty become the Perils of Pauline, seemingly unchanged by what had happened to her.

Daytime shows make these same mistakes, too. We have characters that never seem to grow or learn from their mistakes (Todd Manning, Sonny Corinthos). There are plenty of couples on every show where the things that made them unique and special have been beaten out of them by repetition. And in this new budget landscape where stories last 13 weeks, it seems like many characters have amnesia about their lives as soon as a story wraps.

The great shame in UB’s cancellation is that this year was so fantastic. It’s a challenge to balance comedy, soapiness, drama and heart, but the show got that mix SO right this season. The Suarez family in particular has been captivating –  Hilda’s new love with Bobby and, especially, Justin’s coming out have been magnificent, warm and funny. (Only Hilda would say, on her wedding day: “Let’s do this bitch!”)

And Betty, at LONG last, was allowed to evolve, grow and really face both her possibilities and her limitations. She was knocked down from her pedestal a few times and, instead of being Saint Betty, learned she is human and even flawed. She also underwent a physical metamorphosis in a way that I thought was perfect: acknowledging that, as a fashion magazine employee and a member of the corporate world for a few years, she’d look a bit more put-together. But that change was gradual, and it didn’t change Betty’s essential style or who she was.

I’m both excited for Wednesday’s finale, but sad that it’s the last Ugly Betty.

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