Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A la Mode

I remember hearing about the premise of US comedy Ugly Betty and thinking it sounded awful. Even as someone wanting to get into the magazine industry it didn't grab my interest - small, frizzy, unglamorous, unstylish girl lands a job at the highest profile fashion magazine in the country. Cynical, city-slick Stylebots who work there are mean to her. She wins them round with her ungainly Latina charm. I remember reading all the media hype, the interesting background story of the original telenovela Betty La Fea being picked up by Mexican star Salma Hayek and made into a glossy US sitcom. But the idea of taking a bizarrely-set, unrealistic spanish-speaking comedy and making into TV gold just seemed surreal to me - I couldn't shake the image of the Spanish comedy guy in the bee costume who pops up in the Simpsons from time to time. Ay ay ay.

But in the last couple of weeks a combination of channel-changing laziness and the time I tend to hit the sofa now led me to watch several episodes from the new series (the third, I think), and it really surprised me. Not only do they have the magazine industry dead on - not the hyper-real, icy offices or diva editors, but the gossipy staff, the celeb & fashion chat, and there is definitely a Marc and Amanda combo in every glossy's editorial team - but there is also real humour and heart to each episode.

But you don't see a lot of Bettys in Magland, truthfully. I'm probably one of the more clueless interns, and when I say clueless, this usually means too much in love with my sleep to get up at 5 and start blowdrying and strapping on killer heels. Or too much in fear of debt to blow all my meagre earnings on the latest everything. But obviously, with Betty, it is not so much slacking as having an idea of what looks great that just happens to collide with the fashion industry's idea of what's vile. The layering, the ponchos, the printed shirts, the clashing colours... even I wince at Betty's attire - I must be one of them, after all. What her colleagues actually tend to point out are the frizzy mass of hair, the giant fringe, the red glasses and the braces. I actually think she's pretty cute, facially (google America Ferrera without the get-up and she's an absolute fox) and if she was just handed a beautifully cut black shift and some glossy heels she'd look great.

I like the fact that although some of fictional mag Mode's staff are verging on caricatures (Wilhemina Slater is a botoxed work of genius), their storylines are funny and sweet and genuine. I love Betty's gentle father, her brash homegirl sister, the straight-talking gay nephew, the whole lot. The brilliance of the show is contrasting the warmth and chaos of the Suarez home with the arctic flawlessness of Mode magazine.
But Betty's perseverance is pretty inspirational, and best of all is the show's theory that if you work hard and are nice to people, things will work out for you.

And while some days I do feel like this....

I know that I'm getting to do more and learn more than at a publication like Mode (Vogue. Why don't they just say it?)

Now all I need is a boss like this....


  1. I've watched a few episodes and found them quite amusing. Interesting to hear the similarities with real life mag offices.

  2. I've watched it since the beginning (way before I ever stepped foot inside a magazine office) and I have to say that I really love it and I think that there is truly an Ugly Betty in all of us.

    This industry is designed to make you feel like an outsider in so many ways and I know that on many occasions that I have felt like the slightly dumpy, frizzy haired know-nothing... but hey thats fashion :)

    And yes would totally love him to be my boss!


  3. Seen this?