Last night was the series finale of Ugly Betty. Even though I’m used to having my favorite shows fall to the axe of cancellation (Rome, Farscape, and the singular Mystery Science Theater 3000, to name a few), Betty‘s abrupt departure is still a disappointment. I take some comfort in the fact that the show finished beautifully, having been better these final weeks than it had been in years.
Betty was a bona fide hit its first two seasons, racking up big ratings and big press. Its third year was riddled with problems. Production moved from LA to New York, but not everyone in the cast wanted to make the move as well. Storylines that had been brewing had to be quickly wrapped up, and were done so unsatisfactorily. ABC also kept changing its time slot, which did nothing to secure the fan base that was already deteriorating, unimpressed with the lacking material (Wilhelmina’s baby scheme, the Hartleys, etc). The general consensus was that a fourth season could well be the last, evidenced by ABC putting Betty in the hospice of prime-time programming, Friday night at 8:00.
But the fourth season got off to a stellar start. The show was getting back to its core characters, and those characters were getting back to themselves. Just as things were humming along, ABC decided not only to pass on renewing the series, but to cut its final season short by two episodes. Much like the show’s titular heroine, the creative team shook off this sucker punch and poured all their energy into making the most of this unfortunate situation. The result was some of the most satisfying television I’ve watched all season.
The last few episodes were vintage Betty. They pushed the envelope in terms of humor, content, and the story’s plausibility (and thus, the fans’ loyalty). Given the circumstances, they delivered a near-perfect finale. The show that wore its heart on its sleeve delivered happy endings and new beginnings for all its major players. Yet what was most pleasing of all was that most of these conclusions were rather open-ended. “Resolutions” might be the better word for them. Problems were resolved, but there was clearly the potential for others. Things between Claire and Wilhelmina, between Marc and Troy, and certainly between Daniel and Betty were not tied up with a sparkly bow (though I thought this last duo’s story was expertly handled). The cast and crew showed us that there was still life left in these characters, and that there were still many stories to tell. We’re just being left to write them on our own.
So, three cheers for Ugly Betty. It was a show with outrageous humor, abundant heart, and a sincere pride in its own unique nature. Part office comedy, part family drama, part telenovela, it embraced its individuality as freely and unabashedly as its memorable, multi-faceted characters did their own. They were all strong, loving, fragile, ambitious, bitchy, selfless, sneaky, and loyal in their own oddball ways. And they were played with relish by one of the most talented and diverse ensemble casts now or forever on prime-time. Black, white, Latina, Asian; gay, straight, transgendered; beautiful or beauty-challenged–everyone was represented on Ugly Betty. For a show that existed in an admittedly heightened state of reality, this was the thing perhaps most genuine about it. I think Betty herself learned the lesson the creators set out to have her teach the world: you can’t judge a book (or trendy magazine) by its cover.