Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Not So Ugly TV Show

I decided to check to see if I could find any good "Ugly Betty" clips since it is, in many ways, a satire on the world of fashion and glamour and might provide different filming techniques from regular sitcoms. Originally, I wanted to use a clip I had of "Friends." But I figured no one really wants to hear about unrelated issues such as an entirely homogoneous and sexist character set-up. So I opted for a show I actually like.

"Ugly Betty" is an interesting show, not only because of the plotline, but also the way it is filmed. It emphasizes extreme versions of characters within a fashion magazine world. It does this by placing a comparatively unattractive girl into the mix of men and women and lets the characters display the differences.

I realize this is a clip video, but the first scene is long enough to discuss some of the filming techniques used. "Ugly" Betty enters her job on the first day. In terms of mind reading, it is clear that Betty is excited to be working at such a high profile place, in a high profile position, judging by her large braces filled smile (we've almost all been there--people who have perfect teeth are definitely missing out on some serious bonding topics) and her constantly raised eyebrows. Amanda (the receptionist) is equally shocked that a girl showing up in a red tourist poncho from Mexico got such an important job. The tension is obvious in the way the camera keeps switching quickly from one face to the other as they speak, each with totally different facial expressions and tones of voices.

When the camera switches to behind the two as they walk down the hall, the differences in personalities are even greater. Amanda walks as though she is modelling the new trend in a slimming outfit and stilettos, where Betty looks large and awkward next to her in her poncho and big hair. It seems clear from this angle that Amanda is out to prove her confidence and competance by how well she fits into the fashion world and Betty is not out to prove anything.

Amanda is an interesting character in general because with other equally "fashionable" characters, she doesn't seem so ridiculous. But when she is paired with Betty or her family, as she is in this first scene, she seems extreme and totally one dimensional.


  1. This show does look pretty funny. I love how in the opening scene at work, whatever Betty wears matches the surroundings of the office. When she is standing in front of the red wall, she disappears into the background in that red poncho, and in the next shot, her vest goes perfectly with the orange knickknacks in teh sewing room. I also can appreciate the symmetry and bleakness of the work environment. The camerawork is interesting in that it is mainly medium-shots perfectly centered on the character/s with just enough background to show how important "looks" are.


  2. Maggie, I really like your detailed analysis of how the technique is used to create the tensions between Betty and Amanda around the importance of appearance in the workplace. You note how the shots serve to position us in relationship to these characters to invite some mind-reading inferences about what they are thinking of each other. I like the idea that over time, we begin to perceive the shallow nature of Amanda's whole focus on appearance/beauty as limited relative to the development of Betty's character. In some ways this is an important show tin that it challenges the whole beauty industry's selling of the ideal feminine image as problematic.