Ugly Betty (3 stars)

Channel 4, Fri 5 Jan, 9.30pm


At 9.30pm on the first Friday night of 2005, Channel 4 introduced us to the most popular new American comedy in years, My Name is Earl. So, when the exact same slot is filled by another heralded US import, you may well be steadying yourself for another jet-paced quirky comedy. While Ugly Betty features a similar central character from a poor, working class background, her goal is to drag herself up, not into a world of spiritual wellbeing, but into a distinctly Desperate Housewives-like universe of beautiful women, bad manners and bitchy backstabbings. But the setting here is not white picket suburbia but a red hot fashion magazine.

Owned by the mysterious Bradford Meade (Alan Dale), Mode has a new editor-in-chief, Meade’s son, after the tragic ‘death’ of the previous boss. This appointment goes down very badly with the horrible Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) whose mission is to bring down the new guy. The show does have its funny moments, mainly revolving around misfortunes which occur to Meade Jr’s PA, the braced-up, big-toothed Betty (having a very large dog take to her; the kidnapping of her fluffy toy rabbit; the alarming reaction to what is viewed as her imperfect image), but this is no Farrelly brothers’ freakathon, leaning more towards schmaltz and mystery.

If the core message that unattractive people from the wrong side of the tracks are unworthy of anything but contempt, any outrage that this causes will either disappear or perhaps be heightened by the little victories gained by Betty in each episode. Intriguingly, in a heavy nod towards the fact Americans really are in love with Ricky Gervais, Ashley Extras Jensen pops up as a Scottish designer with a heart while Lucy The Office Davis is also in there as a snide presenter of Fashion Television.

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