The ‘Ugly Betty’ Renaissance


When Netflix put Ugly Betty back in its catalog in August 2023, an “Ugly Betty renaissance” resounded from all corners of the Internet. Gen X and millennial fans of the original series, which aired on ABC from 2006-2010, have united with a younger audience that can now binge-watch all four seasons on the streaming platform. Despite the fact the show is over 15 years old, it clearly still resonates with people today. This is largely due to the connection viewers feel with its titular lead character, Betty Suarez, who is a bubbly and self-determined assistant-turned-fashion editor played by the fabulous America Ferrera (Barbie, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).

Adapted from the Colombian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la Fea, ABC’s Ugly Betty judiciously blends comedy, drama, romance, and social commentary about being a minority in a predominately white industry. As viewers watch Betty navigate work life at a cutthroat fashion magazine, they can’t help but root for her success—especially in the face of the diabolical fashionista Creative Director, Wilhelmina Slater (played by the iconic Vanessa Williams). Let’s take a look at what makes Ugly Betty such a success and why the show was truly ahead of its time.

Reinventing Network TV’s Leading Lady

One of the most central elements behind the show’s popularity was its uniquely relatable protagonist, Betty Suarez. A young Latina woman from Queens, Betty doesn’t fit society’s conventional beauty standards. She’s had braces and the same haircut since she was in middle school, and chooses her outfits based on comfort over style (why can’t a poncho be both?!). The irony is that Betty is far from “ugly,” but because she doesn’t present as the stereotypical image of a glamorous leading lady, she is often ridiculed and underestimated by her colleagues at Mode Magazine. This departure from the typical portrayal of a working lady who happens to be effortlessly gorgeous resonated with audiences who probably found it much harder to relate to other female leads like Meredith Grey.

Furthermore, Betty’s character defies the “Spicy Latina” trope that still pervades mainstream television (i.e. Maddy from Euphoria). Betty is portrayed as vulnerable and highly intelligent with a strong moral center. By having a Latina lead who is quirky and book smart, qualities that Hollywood usually only affords to white women, Ugly Betty pushes back against harmful stereotypes that still plague Latina women. Betty’s character is largely shaped by her close-knit family, particularly her immigrant father Ignacio (Tony Plana) older sister Hilda (Ana Ortiz), and fashionista nephew Justin (Mark Indelicato). The Suarez family’s strong bond and cultural values are at the core of the show’s emotional resonance and make Betty a refreshing representation of a network leading lady.

A Colorful Supporting Cast

The supporting cast of characters in Ugly Betty also played a crucial role in the show’s popularity. Betty’s coworkers at Mode are an eclectic group of individuals, each with their own origin stories and zingy one-liners. Wilhelmina Slater, played by Vanessa Williams, is the show’s main antagonist and a formidable force in the fashion world. She is a scheming, glamorous icon who will stop at nothing to secure the title of Editor-In-Chief. Who can blame her when the job was given to the spoiled son of a magazine mogul, Betty’s boss Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius)? Wilhelmina’s machiavellian ways are aided by her hilariously cunning assistant Marc (Michael Urie), who initially views Betty as a threat, but is eventually won over by Betty’s intelligence and authenticity. Marc’s work bestie and flirty Mode receptionist Amanda (Becki Newton) is another comedic heart of the series who undergoes major character development.

Marc and Amanda’s friendship features some of the show’s best comedic writing as neither character understands how Betty got hired as the Executive Assistant of the Editor-In-Chief. Initially portrayed as the “Mean Girl” and “Gay Best Friend” archetypes, Amanda and Marc come to realize that their cult-like worship of fashion trends and diet fads aren’t getting them anywhere in their careers and that maybe Betty has the right idea by being herself. The writers also do a great job at peeling back the layers of Marc and Amanda’s snobby exteriors, showing them as vulnerable characters with real anxieties and dreams of their own. One particular heartwarming dynamic in the show is between Marc and Betty’s nephew, Justin, who sees Marc as a mentor as he navigates homophobic bullying at school.

Justin’s mother Hilda, who is Betty’s older sister, is another central supporting character that became a fan-favorite. As a teen mother who never went to college, Hilda is jealous of Betty’s job at first, believing her sister doesn’t belong at Mode, but eventually comes to support Betty who inspires her to pursue a career of her own. What Hilda lacks in book smarts, she makes up for in street smarts and her fierce motherly love for her son, Justin. She is a woman who perseveres despite what life throws at her, which makes her one of the most relatable and beloved characters on the show.

Betty and Daniel’s Will-They-Or-Won’t-They Dynamic

One of the biggest questions fans want answered is whether Betty and her former boss Daniel get together by the end of the series. Spoiler alert: to be determined. Over the course of four seasons, the evolution of Betty and Daniel’s relationship from boss/employee to friends to maybe more than friends captured the hearts of viewers around the globe. It’s hard not to ship Betty and Daniel given how polar opposite they are to begin with. Betty is hired as Daniel’s assistant by his father Bradford Meade (Alan Dale), hoping that Betty’s lack of conventional attractiveness will prevent Daniel from being distracted by his womanizer ways. This premise sets the stage for their initial interactions, which are full of awkwardness and misunderstandings given their extremely different backgrounds, until a subtle mutual respect begins to take shape.

As the series progresses, Betty becomes Daniel’s moral compass, guiding him through various professional and personal dilemmas, including his battles with addiction and familial trauma. Her unwavering support and advice helps transform Daniel from a spoiled playboy into a more responsible, empathetic individual. In turn, Daniel supports Betty’s aspirations and growth, advocating on her behalf in the cutthroat environment of Mode. The dynamic between Betty and Daniel challenges and subverts typical depictions of a male and female lead, which usually culminates in a romance. While there is undoubtedly romantic tension between them, Ugly Betty keeps their relationship platonic, emphasizing Betty as an independent character whose worth is not tied to a man.


It’s no wonder that Ugly Betty’s cult following has prevailed into the streaming age. The 2006 series was ahead of its time in so many ways, providing comfort and inspiration for marginalized women who see themselves in Betty Suarez. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the power of representation and the lasting impact of staying true to who you are.

Sources Cited

Valentine, Jasmine. “Ugly Betty makes a return to Netflix’s back catalog, and fans are loving it.” Pink News, 14, August 2023.