Fug Girls: Seven Ways to Revive Ugly Betty

By
Gareth Pugh, fall 2009. Photo: Courtesy of ABC

It's no secret that we're frustrated with Ugly Betty's rapid decline, but ABC's new plan to yank the fashion-industry parody — in order to launch a new sitcom, thus probably shoving Betty off the grid until June — feels premature and rash, like dumping your girlfriend just because she keeps leaving her cell in the car. Sure, the show is coming off an episode so bad that it caused the Television Without Pity recapper, who is well seasoned in enduring crappy TV, to throw up his hands and forsake cash rather than watch it ever again. But we don’t think ABC should quit so readily: We used to love spunky Betty and her namesake dramedy, and frankly, we'd prefer that ABC help resuscitate the old girl, instead of putting her to sleep. It can't be that hard — we have ideas already:

Stop making Betty's family so douchey. At some point, Ugly Betty morphed from a sassy, snarky soap-with-a-heart into a soppy morality play about the dangers of allowing a paying job to keep you from playing nursemaid. We blame the increasing insufferability of Clan Suarez: People enjoy watching an unlikely heroine make her way in the big city, but nobody wants to see said heroine's whiny family guilt-trip her about fleeing the coop — to the point where she agrees that wanting a job AND her own life is a terrible character flaw and moves back home. There’s a reason Sex and the City didn’t have any scenes where Carrie's mother yelled at her because her column deadline prevented her from attending a family Tupperware party.

Bring back the soapy tone. What happened to Mr. Suarez's beloved telenovelas? In addition to providing a clever reminder that Betty is based on a telenovela itself, they encouraged a campier framework, and subtly prompted the audience not to take this whole world quite so seriously. We understand criticism that the show is occasionally too over-the-top (though for us, that is impossible), but if we were really that interested in watching a heartfelt exploration of assistants mixing up outgoing mail, we'd go hang out at CAA’s offices for an hour. Plus, we want to know what happened to the maid who faked a pregnancy with a soccer ball.

Make more out of Mode. A fashion-mag office should be replete with saucy and complex potential story lines, but lately most of the Mode shenanigans exist merely as lazy comic relief to offset tedious "Hugging and Learning" segments, or as fuel for Betty’s bogus life lessons in "How Working Will Ruin Your Family." Moreover, there are way too many people shoehorned into the cast with either nothing to do, or nothing to offer. The new CFO's primary character trait is that Daniel wants his ex, and Wilhelmina wants him. Wake us up when he decides to poison one of them by redoing the walls in lead paint.

Finish stronger. When you manage to turn a bitter, glamorous transsexual character like Alexis into a melancholy dullard, you have gone awry. And hasn’t Christina been gestating Wilhelmina’s child with dead Mr. Meade for nearly a year? Ashley Jensen may leave the show, so presumably her character will pop it out eventually, but the story line has dragged on so long we're starting to wonder if she'll give birth to a toddler. If you want to compete with the hotness of Bones' David Boreanaz, you need better endings to promising plot twists.

Commit to Betty's look. She's supposed to be a fish out of water. Hiring Pat Field to make her clash fashionably in $600 coats does not count.

Commit to Betty. After almost three years of babysitting Daniel, the decision to enroll Betty in an editor-training program is a good start at giving her some drive. Girlfriend needs more visible talent and a real shot at participating at Mode, or else we'll all quit because we can't believe she hasn't.

Hire Heather Locklear. Hey, it worked for Melrose Place.