Bye Bye Betty!

Ugly Betty
Image via Wikipedia

I’m not a huge TV person, but tonight will say goodbye to one of the very few characters I’ve loved, and a rarity on primetime, a Hispanic woman — Ugly Betty.

If you love journalism and have ever spent time working in New York, the show’s plotlines and characters, and exterior shots, will likely have resonated for you as well. She was hardworking, funny, fiercely devoted to her family, constantly bullied by her co-workers (before they grew up) and still managed to climb the greasy pole of success.

There are few prime-time network shows that respectfully and engagingly portray a Hispanic family and reveal the real conflict that many young Latina working women feel between loyalty to their domestic life and a hunger for larger success. Hispanics still have the lowest rate of college attendance and graduation and, when I wrote about this issue for The New York Times, heard firsthand from a number of young Latinas about the opposing demands placed on them by family and ambition.

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On most television shows, the adult characters seem to have been raised by wolves — their family of origin a Thanksgiving or holiday punchline at most. The central theme of Ugly Betty was often family and how much they can still matter, even to a young adult in a demanding job.

I look forward to tonight’s final episode, but will miss her (and Justin and Wilhelmina and Daniel and their adventures.) Adios chica!

As We Lose 'Lost' and 'Ugly Betty', TV's 22 Best-Ever Female Characters

Playing through
Image by ewen and donabel via Flickr

As “Lost” is about to start its final season February 2, I’m going to miss Kate, its feisty and ferocious character who’s dominated many of the show’s story lines. I’ve loved her complexity and ferociousness and, as a fellow Canadian, loved the fact she’s not one more scrawny Hollywood blond, but a graduate in international relations from the University of British Columbia, happier in real life changing the oil on big rigs than modeling, both jobs she did to pay her college tuition.

Here are some of the women I’ve loved, laughed at and cried with over the years.

Here’s a site listing 30 more, and another with their top 10. Interestingly, a survey of 2,378 on-line readers found that 70.7 percent of respondents tartly replied they don’t look to TV for role models, just entertainment.

My picks:

C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, on The West Wing the Aaron Sorkin drama that ran from 1999 to 2006. Tall, gangly, smart as hell, C.J. was a great mix of tough and tender, funny as hell in her role as director of White House communications.

Mary Richards, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ran on CBS from 1970 to 1977, a major first with a woman who wasn’t married or desperate to marry. At the time, Mary was a role model, all eager excitement about having a career and living on her own in the big city.

Lucy Ricardo, the star of “I Love Lucy”, played by Lucille Ball. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, formed a production company, Desilu Productions, responsible for many of the hit television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Christina Yang, played by Canadian actress Sandra Oh, on ABC’s hit Grey’s Anatomy. How many women characters anywhere get to be this stubborn, driven and so frequently emotionally tone-deaf? If you’ve ever met a successful surgeon, you’ll know there’s some truth in her portrayal. And Chandra Wilson, playing Dr. Bailey, whose marriage blows up thanks to her devotion to her career; many ambitious women can identify with her struggles to juggle family and work.

Cagney & Lacey, played by Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless, 1982-1988, in the cop drama series of the same name. Every cop show — every iteration of Law & Order — owes a debt of thanks to this show, the first TV drama to star two women.

Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrara, on Ugly Betty. A TV star who isn’t rail-thin? That’s news in itself. Betty’s work ethic could light a continent. So could her heart. Are you as persuaded as someone I know she’s going to end up marrying Daniel?

Dana Scully of The X-Files, played by Gillian Anderson, 1993-2002. Who didn’t want to be Scully, all cool rationality in the face of her partner Fox Mulder’s obsessiveness?

The women of ABC’s hit drama “Lost”: Kate, played by Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly, Junyin Kim as Sun,  and Juliet, the cool, blond doctor, played by Elizabeth Mitchell.

Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh, aka The Closer, played by Kyra Sedgwick.

Patty Hewes, Damages, played by Glenn Close, on the FX cable channel.

Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen. TV’s first single mom by choice. How many television characters have ever provoked a Vice-Presidential response?

Stacey London, playing herself, in TLC’s reality show for the fashion-challenged What Not To Wear. Sue me, I love this show. As someone who finds shopping overwhelming and often just annoying, I enjoy watching her help women look their best.

The women of NBC’s hospital-based drama ER, which ran from September 1994 to April 2009: Linda Cardellini as Samantha Taggart, Alex Kingston as the widowed Dr. Corday, Nurse Abby Lockhart — prickly and determined to become, as she did, a physician.

Detective Jane Tennison in the British series Prime Suspect, played by Helen Mirren for 15 years. Chain-smoking, driven, compelling.

Lindsay Weir, Freaks and Geeks, 1999-2000, a short-lived but well-loved drama/comedy about life in high school. The role was played by Linda Cardellini, who later showed up as Samantha Taggart in ER, yet another prickly, complicated woman, a rare species on television at any time.

Lt. Uhura, played by Michelle Nichols, in the original 1960s Star Trek. Nyotu Uhura was the ship’s communications officer, a smart, professional black woman as a central character on a network television show, NBC, at a time when racial segregation still existed. The original show first aired in 1966 and only ran for three seasons and is the television show with the most spin-offs ever. Live long and prosper!

Who gets your vote?

Adios, Chica — 'Ugly Betty' Canceled

Ugly Betty
Image via Wikipedia

Dios mio! One of favorite shows, ever, Ugly Betty, has been canceled. Of course, moving the show from Thursday night to Friday night to a belated Wednesday night spot didn’t help.

Now we’ve got only a few shows left, ever, to watch the antics of Wilhelmina Slater and Daniel and Betty and her Dad and Hilda. I’ll miss it.

I loved Betty’s huge heart, her willingness to do the right thing no matter how unfashionable. I loved that she was climbing the greasy pole of Manhattan magazine publishing in her own way. Anyone who’s ever stepped one stilletoed toe in the halls of Conde Nast can appreciate the sort of walls anyone like Betty, with her outer-borough wardrobe and outsize ambitions, was facing.

My partner is Hispanic, so I also enjoyed watching the domestic dramas that can come with a family that’s typically a little more out-there emotionally than us WASPs.  And few other prime-time shows that gained such popularity featured a working-class Hispanic family.

Given a choice between Betty La Fea and atrocities like Cougartown, I know where my vote lies. Adios, chica!