Adios Betty la fea
April 15th, 2010
For four seasons ABC’s Ugly Betty has delighted us. Drawing on it’s Columbian telenova roots, it was over the top, lunatic, and histrionically dramatic. There were murders, embezzlements, and plots and schemes ranging from sabotaged runways to stolen sperm.
But in spite of the improbable antics (or perhaps because of them) this show managed to present America with a broad range of gay characters, full of depth, unique, and interesting. Gone were the sincere very special after school movie characters who were gay bashed or dying of AIDS. Absent were the poor rejected teen thrown out of the house by conservative and disapproving parents. There wasn’t even the obligatory closedted gay character brought on to bravely come out and fall in love only to be written out once the drama was over.
Instead, Ugly Betty gave us LGBT characters who were integral to the story line and who were as fabulous, fierce, flawed and frantic and the straight characters around them. The more important included:
Marc St. James (Michael Urie) – Marc was the gay stereotype on steroids. He was flamboyant, bitchy, fashion obsessed, self centered, and above all insecure. The personal assistant to the show’s chief villain, Marc was (along with his best friend Amanda) Betty’s tormentor. He ran a daily blog on Betty’s unfashionable attire and came dressed as her for Halloween.
But over the show story arc, Marc came to represent personal growth and redemption. As he developed a fondness for Betty, he also developed character and personal integrity and, in time, his shallowness became more of a mask behind which he quietly did the right thing. Part of his transition is founded on his interaction with Justin, in whom Marc saw a younger version of himself. Once a principle schemer and betrayer, by the end Marc was in many ways the conscience of the show.
Alexis Meade (Rebecca Romijn) – The first season’s drama revolved around a Mystery Lady who, in bandages, was somehow scheming with the villain, Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) to take over Mode Magazine. She was revealed to be Alex, the older son of the Meade media mogul, once thought dead but now returning as Alexis after a secret sex change.
This could have been played for laughs – and it was in many ways. And Alexis’ sexuality was a bit confusing as it seems that she had dated women in her male past (perhaps out of expectation) and now dated men. But the show was careful to clarify that Alexis was transgender, not a man in a dress, and that this was not the same thing as gay. And while her transgender status was at times more of a gimmick, this was one of few fully developed transgender characters on a television show.
Alexis was not in the fourth season.
Justin Suarez (Mark Indelicato) – When we first met Betty’s nephew Justin, then a young teen, gaydar across the nation went off. Effeminate, obsessed with fashion and pop culture, and possessed of a vibrant and sunny disposition, Justin was recognizably pre-gay. But unlike shows that go for the easy drama, Justin’s storyline was not all just “picked on at school” or “caught wearing mother’s clothes”. Instead, while Justin was at times tormented and hated P.E., his was a primarily happy life with a supporting mother, cool aunt, and doting grandfather.
Much of the conflict in Justin’s plotline revolved around his family’s uncertainty as to how to be there for Justin without pushing him in any direction. Particularly sensitive was the way in which Marc, as a mentor, never presumed that Justin was gay and was supportive of Justin’s brief exploration of liking a girl. Even half way through the final season, there was no certainty that Justin was a gay character. But in the last few episodes, he came to know himself, find a boyfriend, and come out to his family in a sweet and – for this show – surprisingly non-dramatic way.
So good-bye to Betty and all of her gay family and friends. I’ll miss them.