“Ugly Betty” gets a makeover

Last spring, when ABC announced its plan to chop Ugly Betty in two, banishing the second half of the season to summer (the place where mid-season flops limp to die), you could practically hear the screams of terror.

In retrospect, the howling was just that collective fit people have on the first drop of a roller coaster: Ugly Betty is exiled (down!); but it’s not getting canceled (up!); but it is moving to Friday nights, the evening of network euthanasia (down!); Betty’s finally getting syndicated (up!); by TV Guide (down!).

Well, the coaster cart is rolling back toward the station and, frankly, everyone looks a little worse for the wear, except for — hang on, is that Betty? But she’s not ugly!

Whoops, I forgot to mention that part of the roller coaster ride: ABC is giving Betty a makeover. We’ve known for a while that Betty is finally going to lose the braces in the upcoming season, but ABC announced recently that they were revamping her entire look. (Spoilers ahead: If you don’t want to see what she will look like on the new season, stop reading.)

According to an Ausiello source, “She looks a lot classier, but she’s still far from perfect.”

ABC isn’t making the decision brashly. (She’s not a lesbian. They can’t just send her off to the Parking Lot of No Return.)

The suits appear most concerned about whether fans of the show will deem Betty’s transformation appropriate, given her four-year journey from flunky to editor, or whether the changes are too drastic and compromise the essence of the Everygal.

Photos surfaced earlier this week of America Ferrera on the Ugly Betty set, and it looks like Pretty Betty is in effect:

You can’t tell from that picture, but she’s absolutely wearing yellow socks with that dress.

There are two ways to look at Betty’s makeover. There’s the “Shame on you ABC for glamming up someone who is supposed to be ugly! It says it right there in the title: Ugly Betty! This is a kick in the gut to feminism, and a terrible message for women everywhere!” way of seeing it.

And then there’s the “Hey, something is finally going to make sense on this show again. I mean, Betty’s been working at a fashion magazine for four years, she’s surely learned something by now.” way of seeing it.

I prefer the latter.

Ugly Betty was never about Betty being ugly. At its best, Betty is the story of a plucky heroine, whose optimism, tenacity and golden soul help her win the hearts of people in a notoriously superficial industry. It’s about unlikely friendships and believing in the beauty of your dreams.

It’s also about adaptation and survival, and Betty’s ability to do both of those things is practically Darwinian.

Betty kind of lost its way last year. Storylines came whizzing out of nowhere, then sped off without resolution. The lovable campiness gave way to total absurdity. And none of the writers seemed clear on the message about Betty’s career (or Hilda’s career, for that matter). It is possible for a woman to have strong romantic and family relationships, and still succeed in the business world? Not unless you want to cause your father to have a heart attack!

Plus, Betty’s clothes went from “ugly” to “seriously distracting.”

Maybe Betty’s makeover is a sign that the writers are shedding the terrible third season caricatures of the characters, and we’re going to get some decent, authentic story-telling this time around.

What do you think of ABC’s decision to makeover Ugly Betty? What do you think of the latest photos? Too drastic? Not enough?

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