Monday, August 07, 2006

Betty La Fea (Ugly Betty) Mas Bella Update (Lucky) XIII

I realize it may be getting old hearing me worry about ABC's "Ugly Betty" before it even hits the air, but recent turns on "La Fea Mas Bella," Univision's remake of the classic "Betty La Fea," have started the concerns again. Primarily it's because the creators of "Betty" and now "La Fea" have always been pretty interactive with the audiences, and I don't know how well a once-a-week show can do that.

What do I mean by "interactive"? Basically, that the writers know we already know how this story is going to go just by its premise, so they are constantly playing with that knowledge, weaving and re-weaving threads that we can follow and making them turn in sometimes surprising directions.

The recent sequence in which Lety decides to rework her "look," to horrendous results, is a good example. We know that it is fundamental to the story that Lety undergo her transformation from fea to bella physically before the show is over. So, by introducing this feint halfway through, they make unsuspecting (aka virgin) viewers believe that the change may be taking place now. And the scene in which she appears at "Conceptos" with her new look, mirroring the scene of her first appearance there in which everyone is taken aback, keeps up the suspense until the curtain is pulled and we become Luigi screaming "el horror!! el horror!!" But that just continues the thread they're building for devoted viewers because there will come yet another repeat of the scene, a triumphant but melancholy at the time repeat (if this is a spoiler for you, get a clue) that we share even more because of these careful build-ups before.

That's what I mean by interactive. The show takes care to engage you and build layers that keep a show of this length together. When Lety, Fernando, whoever, lapses into a daydream (a trick "Betty" made as popular as Ally McBeal did), the first few times we may get tricked, but then it becomes another running thread binding us to the previous times used. They introduce novelty and capture our attention while reinforcing all the prior episodes.

That's why I'm concerned about the ABC version. I've already talked about how the time limitations will force them to truncate, simplify, or just eliminate some or more of the characters and subplots that give "Betty" and "La Fea" their special ambience. Will a one-hour, once-a-week show have the time or interest to create the threads I'm talking about here and to rework and re-weave them as effectively? Maybe, as I've said, with a telenovela vet like mi novia secreta Salma Hayek at the wheel, but I don't see how it can be done well simply because of the structure of the US version compared to a telenovela concept.

I'm wishing more and more that ABC would have taken the risk and run it as a telenovela. That's expecting guts and imagination from business in which "Desperate Housewives" and "24" are considered creative. Maybe Salma gets it enough to make it work. She's certainly one of the brainier people in entertainment right now. (If everything balances in the universe, think how many other women are more unattractive and less intelligent than they would have been if Salma Hayek had never been born. And, no, we don't have plans for a shrine. Yet.) All this may be fruitless, needless worry. But "Betty" is such a treasure, and "La Fea" has done a nice job copying it (although, can anyone who saw both believe "Betty" would be on "Cantando por un Sueno" (tilde challenged), even in a daydream?) It will be hard to accept anything that waters them down.

Don't let us down, Salma.