Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ugly Betty: "Family/Affair"

Illustration for article titled Ugly Betty: "Family/Affair"
Illustration for article titled Ugly Betty: "Family/Affair"

Last week I hoped Ugly Betty's hurried season premiere was an anomaly, and it looks like I was right. Tonight was a lot looser, and a lot funnier, and they're hitting some notes they hadn't even aimed for previously.

That they're giving Justin more dimension was the second-pleasantest shock of the evening (I'll detail the first later). I figured that Justin's internship at Mode was good for some fun interaction with Mark, and there was (Mark flicking pen across the room and telling Justin, "Get that for me," was perfect), but having him wrestle with his implied legacy, as the son of a macho neighborhood big-shot, is a great twist. It's also a good way to work some of the realpolitik of gay life into the story, if that's where it goes. I hope it does: it's a natural subject for the show.

Mark Indelicato has grown quite a lot over the hiatus, and maybe the size is why he's getting heftier material. I do like that they haven't forced him to be "cute" now that it's not quite feasible. Justin is becoming my favorite character on the show.

The plot twists I was least looking forward to were all handled more deftly than I'd expected. Alexis's "partial retrograde amnesia" is a lot better than the "Who am I? Why did you call me . . . that name?" business at the end of Ep 1, but having Alex manhandle his own tits was great pantomime (Betty's "trying to put [herself] in her shoes" worked well too), and the reconciliation with Bradford (almost wrote "Dadford") will probably spin things a bit, especially since he's postponed the wedding with Wilhelmina.

I'm so happy Amanda ditched the (completely unconvincing, hello) fat suit that her newfound puppy love is probably secondary. ("So what if you're mangy and disgusting, with a weird rash on your butt. If that is your butt.") But it lets her succumb to the mess of life a lot more convincingly than her stint as a person of size ever did—the suit was too distracting to work as either plot or shtick. As for Betty's sneaking into Wilhelmina's apartment: along with amnesia, this is the hoariest bit of business in prime time. But once again, within it lay some of the funniest and best-written stuff the show has done: the photo of Wilhelmina with Dick Cheney, Betty and Christina texting each other under the bed, the "Afternoon Delight" joke working not once but twice, modestly both times, as was obviously the idea.

Tonight Marc was weirdly crapshoot-like to me. There were a couple of moments where you could feel the writers trying to push him into center stage, which is understandable: he was the surprise of the first season, someone the writers intended as a walk-on who took on a life of his own. But he also had two of the great moments of the episode: the bendy-straw speech, which was brilliant, and providing FX for Wilhelmina on the roof, which was flat-out genius. That was merely a set-up, though, for the best moment of the entire episode, when Wilhelmina cuts the bullshit with Betty: "Come on, girl, I'm black, you're Mexican, let's not talk around it like a couple of dull white people." Hell. Yes. Class anger is already a steady underpinning of the show; race has been underutilized. (Major exception: Wilhelmina's "Did you just gesture at me when you said Kwanzaa?"—the most cutting moment of the first season, and a line Vanessa Williams this printed on coffee mugs given to the show's cast and crew as holiday gifts.) More please.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-Henry-Betty: not disappointing, exactly, but not spectacular, either—which, as the ending hinted, is good strategy. Watching Henry stammer in Betty's presence is always charming, and his drunkenness at episode's end was even more so. I also liked Betty's "Whassup, Buddy?" shoulder-punch, which sent Henry across the room.

-Henry's best line, to Christina, who's explained everything with precise wording and clean articulation, at least for us Yanks: "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you."

-Second-best Wilhelmina moment: telling Bradford, "I'm fine," as the fireplace fire rises a good two feet. Third-best: bashing the mannequins to pieces: between her "bodyguard" and this, we now know how she gets rid of all that magazine-running stress.

-Amanda's new dog is named Halston, after the '70s-defining designer. Maybe it's just my predilection for '70s pop culture, but if Ugly Betty is ever reduced to that most abhorrent of staples, the flashback episode, I do wonder what Mode was like in its disco-era heyday.

-Tony Plana is my least favorite actor in the cast, and his "Treat me like a criminal, I'll be one" stuff tonight was weirdly stiff. But he was great in Betty's fantasy: funnier, cutting, great evil eye.

-Speaking of which, here's My Girlfriend's Quote of the Week: "That was a very cheerful 'Ignacio might die' preview."