How madly refreshing it is to have a hit TV show that for once is not about doctors, lawyers or cops. Useful and interesting careers all, but for the love of Philo T. Farnsworth, there are other jobs that are milkable for every possible scrap of comedy, suspense, drama and laughs. As for re-working a foreign television hit for an American audience, how very refreshing to have a show come from somewhere other than Brit-TV. And finally, how very nice not to have a laugh-track braying after every mildly humorous line reading, as if the audience needs to be told when to laugh.

“Ugly Betty” was a madly popular Columbian telenovela, following the adventures of a homely admin-assistant at a top-flight glamour magazine. It has translated beautifully to an American setting, throwing the ugly duckling of a decidedly unglamorous but hard-working and intelligent young heroine, Betty Suarez (America Ferrara) into the shark-pool of ultra-high fashion magazine “Mode” as assistant to the play-boy son of Mode Magazine’s owner. The show gleefully skewers high fashion and high-profile media, office duplicity, medieval-theme restaurants, bizarre fashion fads… and even telenovelas themselves.

Two qualities set it apart from the usual run of television fare: extremely good writing, and a splendid cast. The dialogue crackles with wit, volleyed back and forth like a badminton birdie between particularly deft players, and the characters are endearing, even the ones who are meant to be awful. The writers and the actors themselves have enough confidence in the characters to show the human weaknesses, and fears of those who would otherwise be fairly uninteresting stock villains, and to make occasionally-occurring small parts and guest-turns into absolute gems. Betty herself is the most endearing of the lot; a genuinely nice person, coping very well in a sea of double-dealing and bitchery.

Like all the best comedies, “Ugly Betty” manages to transform some of the tragic turns in the story into genuinely heart-breaking moments. “Ugly Betty” is one of those rare television series that might very well be worth watching more than once.

Extras in this set are lavish, contained all together on the final disc: the conversations with cast members about their characters, and one rather fascinating feature about how the “green screen” is used to re-create a convincing New York setting, when the shows’ actors are all in Hollywood. Viewers may be astonished to discover how good digital technology has become at this. I was quite surprised to see that the Suarez’s house in Queens is one little façade, all by itself; all the other houses are added later! There was the obligatory blooper reel (so-so) and a nice collection of complete scenes omitted from finished episodes. It was clear why one or two of them were cut (too long and expository, or bogged down the story-line) but most of the omitted scenes would have benefited by being included where intended.

“Ugly Betty” Complete first season is being released Tuesday, August 21st, and is available at Amazon.com

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com

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