For the past four Summers I have looked forward to the week every August when a new Ugly Betty complete season hits DVD. I have never been head over heels in love with the series, but I certainly have greatly enjoyed watching it which certainly means something.
On the face of it, the story of Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) is an incredibly relatable one – she is the proverbial ugly duckling, trying to figure out where she belongs. Betty is an incredibly good, kind, generous person who is pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. By sheer happenstance, when the series begins she finds herself working for Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), the Editor-in-Chief at MODE, a fashion magazine and definitely not Betty's forte. However, over the course of the four seasons of Ugly Betty, she not only finds her place at MODE, she thrives there, so much so that she has some difficulty this season with the concept of possibly moving on to bigger and better things.
In essence, the majority of the fourth season, for Betty, is about whether or not she is ready to spread her wings and fly or if, just perhaps, MODE is the right place for her after all. This basic question is asked repeatedly through the season as Betty starts a blog in one episode, is offered a job in another, and finally has to make a decision about her place in the series finale.
It was decided early enough during the season that Betty would not return for a fifth year that the producers had ample time to end the story of Betty, her co-workers, and her family in the way they wanted. With television shows this can be both a blessing and a curse - the producers' goals may or may not come across on screen and fans may or may not accept what the producers had in mind.
In some cases on Betty, as with Betty's nephew, Justin (Mark Indelicato), the producers have done a fantastic job. Over the course of the series Indelicato and Justin have been one of the most fun elements of Betty's life in Queens. Heading into this season, Justin, while having all of what would be considered the stereotypical hallmarks of being gay, had never openly announced his sexuality although his family certainly made assumptions. Justin's sexuality is a recurring theme throughout this season and one that feels very well considered and written. Indelicato perfectly portrays the indecision, the fear, and the worry that someone in the character's shoes may have and any episode which spends more time on him in season four is a good one.
Other storyline-wrapping instances fare far less well. It is not going into too much detail to say that during the entire series Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams) has done her best to get her hands on Meade Publications, the company that owns MODE. Her schemes this season are just as well thought out as in the past, but the final payoff and the way her story and that of Claire Meade (Judith Light) ends is less than satisfying. In fact, part of the storyline seems to simply vanish in the last episode.
Still other moments in the final few episodes make it feel as though the series simply had too much time to wrap up, with old, discarded, unnecessary characters being trotted out for one last little tale whose time could have been better spent elsewhere (and it is very noticeable that Rebecca Romijn did not return to reprise her role as Alexis Meade). The same is certainly true of an episode that does a mini take on It's a Wonderful Life.
Fans will be happy to know that Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, and Michael Urie are all back for the final season. Most of the characters do get recurring storylines this season, although Tony Plana – as Betty's father – is noticeably left out in this regard. Newton and Urie as Amanda Tanen and Marc St. James respectively are still (as I think I have mentioned every year) two of the standouts in the series. More time is devoted to Marc this season than Amanda, but both have their moments and both appear together on the DVD extras in "MODE After Dark" which features the two having fun at the MODE offices and a short featurette about the cast's trip the Bahamas.
Perhaps because this is the last season and people simply wanted to move on, but the extras that come as a part of it are noticeably minimalistic. There is a commentary track, provided by Indelicato and Urie, on a single episode; the only featurette is the look at the cast going to the Bahamas (the episode associated with that trip plays out like a big advertisement for the resort at which they stay); a blooper reel; and some deleted scenes. It would have been exceptionally nice to hear the producers and cast spend some time discussing the evolution of the series, the characters, and their thoughts on Ugly Betty's conclusion. The lack of such a featurette is both perplexing and disappointing. The fact that the first two discs contain nothing but deleted scenes as special features but are each organized differently is just weird.
I still do not believe that I would have enjoyed watching Ugly Betty on a weekly basis, there would have been too great a lag between the setup of some of the plots and the payoff. However, I am convinced that next August will be slightly more depressing without a new boxed set to which I can look forward.
Article first published as DVD Review: Ugly Betty - The Complete Fourth and Final Season on Blogcritics.