Ugly Betty: What a Drag

Whenever Ugly Betty ended, its demise was bound to be ironic: The TV show about a print magazine has, like so many print publications, folded. Want to get even more meta? This week’s episode focused on the mightiness of the web. Like all the bad news in journalism, the end of this show is awful and unfortunate: Ugly Betty is and has been one of the most consistently intelligent, goofy, and subversive series on prime-time network television. Other shows have tried to borrow its wit, but none has matched its heart. And now that we’re running out of time, bring on the Liza Minelli cameo, stat!

Last night, Betty pulled out the big gay guns and presciently paused to take a look at how far it has come (the episode was finished before the cast and crew got word of the cancellation). The fun story line: drag queen Wilhelmina! The main story line: The Internet is decadent and depraved.

Fun first: Wilhelmina Slater is mortified to learn a drag queen by the moniker Wilheldiva Hater is skewering her at a downtown cabaret, and she employs the doppelgänger (played by Vanessa Williams’s real-life brother, Chris) to do her dirty work — like speak to charity groups. Though it seems like the show could have had more of a blast with this setup (a frequent critique this season), the scene where Manna Wintour cracks jokes about The September Issue in her harsh bob is rich. In the end, Willie has to save her drag queen’s job by jumping onstage and singing “Maneater,” which gives Williams a chance to remind us of her awesomeness. (RuPaul and a gaggle of NYC drag queens cameo.)

Back at the office, Betty wins an award for minority new-media personalities thanks to her personal blog. When Daniel Meade hurts her feelings by recalling how gawky Betty was upon arrival at Mode, she retaliates by exposing his poor interview prep to two famous subjects (enter guest star Carlos Leon, a.k.a. Madonna’s trainer ex). The crux of the situation, perceptive new assistant Amanda points out, is that Daniel is having a hard time grappling with Betty’s success. Seriously? That idea is more lame than it is unbelievable at this point in the characters’ development. (Also lame: Kristen Johnson returns as a fashion-casualty receptionist and is left literally flipping through an old Marie Claire.) Hopefully this wasn’t the start of a “relationship growing pains” subplot that leads to Betty and Daniel’s eventual romance.

Of course, the duo’s disagreement is complicated by that pesky blog. Betty ignites the Internet with an angry screed that barely conceals Daniel’s identity. (Watch the moment that’ll have you yelling, “What? No!” as her finger hovers above the “publish” button below). The post is the result of sad, late-night blogging (a major no-no!), and after the story goes big, Amanda has to tell Daniel she has “Suzuki, TMZ, and something called the New York Times on the line for you.”

Daniel and Betty naturally find a way to end their insanely childish argument — which was so ridiculous we were actually on Team No-Beard-Thank-God Daniel for the first time ever — and celebrate the populism of the net. Betty gives the following as her acceptance speech:

“We’re here celebrating what blogs can do. Sure, they can be used to thoughtlessly attack people from a seemingly safe vantage point, which is very regrettable. But they can also make it possible for someone who has something to say but doesn’t have a TV station or a major magazine to still make their voice be heard, and I think that’s really important.”

Can you imagine what would happen if Mode learned about Twitter? Or better yet, if anyone figured out a way to monetize anything online so we could maybe find a home for excellent shows like Ugly Betty when networks give up on them?

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Rickey.org goes gaga for Vanessa Williams’s drag act. By the way, a fortysomething actress who’s bold enough to play her own drag queen is surely a fierce find.

Ugly Betty: What a Drag