Ugly Betty (S03E01): “The Manhattan Project”

Grade: A-

Betty’s back after a summer full of off screen drama, sparked by the news that the show was obliterating its New York City sets in favor of the real deal, but it seems clear after the season premiere that Ugly Betty’s move to the Big Apple has infused this show with an extra dose of magic. Seeing scenes play out against the 100% real backdrop of Gotham is something no set, no matter how elaborate, can mimic, and its effect on these scenes has to be seen to be felt. Though the story continues on, such a big move in the show’s production has inspired a fresh start for the characters and their crazy storylines. For anyone that didn’t “Jump” for joy at the end of last season, I urge you to ogle Ugly Betty once more, and I think you’ll find yourself falling victim to its many charms.

That charm I speak of is a multi-layered thing on Betty, manifesting itself sometimes in the more tender moments, where characters seem like real people and their struggles are genuine and touching, and other times in the outlandish moments, where characters are caricatures and exist in a far fetched world created for our comedic benefit. It’s the Telenovela, but with the finesse of American comedy and drama. And in this episode, every character is charming, even the dastardly Wilhelmina. Henry and his baby mamma and Gio are out of the picture, and their absence is not felt in the slightest. Something about some of those characters began to interfere with the charm of this show. They all began well, but by the end of last season I had pulled a harsh 180 in regards to my feelings on Henry+Betty 4Ever. So the break in Betty’s boy drama was nice, even if its not a matter of if but when it will start back up again.

Miss Title Character, Betty, is wonderfully bumbling and fun to watch as usual, but the entire ensemble of this show continues to inch further into the spotlight. Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams) grows more deliciously evil by the episode, Marc and Mandy’s antics are always amusing, and Daniel and his more-than-dysfunctional family are a train wreck that’s hard to grow tired of. But the character that’s grown most during this show’s evolution is Betty’s sassy sister, Hilda, played by Ana Ortiz. Her moments tend to swing from one end of this show’s spectrum to the other, allowing her to deliver some of the most touching scenes as well as some of the funniest. Her comic timing is perfect, as is her ability to tug on the old heartstrings, and she’s pulled herself up by those manicured nails of hers from being a minor side character into a position of being one of the best, whose scenes I look forward to most.

As I said before, the story for this episode is all about fresh starts. Betty wants more independence and to discover herself, Hilda begins taking steps away from Santos, Ignacio inches into realms outside of his family, Daniel takes on the new role of being a dad, and everyone else seems to be moving in new directions themselves. Yet with all this new, there’s still so much familiar. It’s as though the writer’s strike and the move allowed the staff of Betty to do some extended spring cleaning, sweeping out the dirt behind the refrigerator and cleaning up the embarrassing roach feces, and they’ve returned with a cleaned up, better focused show. Last season was good, it really was, but there were certain elements that, if dragged over into this season, could have eventually really gotten Betty off track. So by scrubbing these things out with bleach and Brillo pads early on, everything is shiny and I’m happy.

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