Sunday, May 28, 2006

Betty La Fea Mas Bella Update IV

"La Fea Mas Bella" (The Prettiest Ugly Girl"), the Univision remake of Telemundo's "Betty La Fea" (uh . . . Betty the Ugly Girl), has been on enough now to settle in, and, for the most part, it has done it well. As I mentioned in previous posts, "Betty" was one of the best and most popular telenovelas of all time, Ugly Duckling meets Cinderella, a Colombian masterpiece of comedy and melodrama in that format so successful that Univision has copied it and ABC apparently is going to work American magic [sic] on it in the fall. The Univision version is pretty much a faithful copy of the story and characters, both of which are so good that you'd have to be really bad to screw it up (hear that, ABC?).

It always takes a bit for even really good series to get the characters fixed and the chemistry rolling, and that was true for "La Fea" at the start. My wife never saw "Betty" and accepted everything quickly. I'm a harder case, but I'm watching and enjoying, especially seeing how the new version compares with the prototype. One of the things I've liked lately ironically demonstrates how the show fails. In the ending credits, a live band (sorry I haven't gotten the name) plays a frighteningly contagious song about "La Club de las Feas" (The Uglies' Club, in which pretty girls are excluded and derided). Originally, as the credits roll, they just showed the band and dancers. Now, the heroine Lety (get it, rhymes with Betty?) has joined them in her frumpy costume, dancing and pining with them, a funny and feisty, if horrendously unviewable, participant. This portrays her character in the show well, as played by long-time telenovela starlette Angelica Vale (whose mother Angelica Maria is a telenovela legend and plays her mother in the show--check out their noses in profile).

The problem is that I at least cannot imagine Betty being part of such a concluding number. As played by the incomparable Ana Maria Orozco, Betty was a waif with unibrow, braces, and thick glasses to complement her awful hair and clothes. You wanted to take her under your wing and protect her. Her growth and empowerment were more real because you knew how easily she was, and had been, injured. Lety, on the other hand, is funny and feisty and has already faced down the same antagonists who, in "Betty," had wounded her to her core. She's still entertaining, but her eventual transformation won't be, can't be, as magical and fulfilling, because she just doesn't have as far to come. Vale is a very good actress and has done well, but she's no waif and is wise not to play one. But, after seeing Orozco, a waif is needed to get this done exactly right. "La Fea" is good, but it will never be "Betty."