The success of Ugly Betty – in ratings, acclaim and endless awards – isn’t down to the witty scripts. Or the mental, soap-operatic plot. Or the glorious couture, overseen by Sex And The City and The Devil Wears Prada superstylist Patricia Field. It’s not even due to exec producer and guest star Salma Hayek’s willingness to bare her bra in episode seven (though that helps, obviously). No – it’s all about lead lady America Ferrera who, beneath braces, badly cut bangs, bushy brows and geek-chic ensembles (the kind east London hipsters can only aspire to), shines irrepressibly as the huge-hearted, plus-size Queens gal hired to stop her horndog boss getting distracted.
Based on a Latino ‘telenovela’, it buzzes with twists, reveals and secrets – both within Betty’s Mexican family and at the office, home of fashion bible Mode. While Extras’ Ashley Jensen commands the clothes rail, PA Marc (Michael Urie) and fag-hag Amanda (Becki Newton) plot to depose playboy ed Daniel (Eric Mabius) in favour of conniving creative director Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams).
The DVD supplements dissect the make-down process endured daily by the not-ugly-really Ferrara, who elsewhere shares thoughts on the show with Hayek (who developed this English-language remake, one of 11 versions worldwide). In less talented hands, Ferrera’s role would be the least intriguing in the show: her feisty sister (Ana Ortiz) is all glamour and attitude, her theatrical nephew (Mark Indelicato) a teen queen, her colleagues a coven of cackling bitches who get all the best lines (see sidebar). Instead, Betty’s adorable: when she’s tricked into wearing fetish gear for a shoot it’s tragic; when she falls for Henry (Christopher Gorham) from accounting, you can’t wait for their first kiss. My Name Is Earl’s Jaime Pressley recently scorned the show for celebrating Betty’s plain-Janeness while endorsing plastic surgery, but missed the point: Ugly Betty salutes the outcast inside all of us, however we chose to reveal (or conceal) it.