You know the story: A young Latina woman enters the daunting fashion industry in the big city and not-so-swiftly transforms from pariah to insider.
More than a dozen versions of the telenovela originally known as "Yo soy Betty, la fea" — which directly translates to “I am Betty, the ugly one” — have been created since 1999, including ABC’s Golden Globe-winner, “Ugly Betty.”
Just shy of 10 years since we said “Hello, Goodbye” to the America Ferrera-fronted favorite, NBC serves up a mixed English and Spanish language series for its Telemundo network titled “Betty en NY.”
Elyfer Torres stars as the series’ Betty, fit for a new generation. For starters, "ugly" was swiftly removed from the go-to title.
In this new script, the key elements are there: Her style is unique; She’s in over her head at a New York company where everyone is perfectly polished, and she’s unknowingly a feminist force to be reckoned with.
“This story is totally timeless,” Torres, 21, says. “For women who are Latina, and a woman who doesn’t go with the beauty standards, the fact that she achieved everything she wants, not just professionally but in love too, it’s so inspiring.”
The storyline has long been praised for providing a voice for Latino and LGBTQ rights groups. When ABC’s version of the tale went off the air in 2010, the then-vice president for Latino advocacy organization, the National Council of La Raza, called the show’s end a “major loss” for New York City given its diverse representation.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter your gender. It doesn’t matter how you look. What really does matter is who you are as a human being,” Torres says.
The actress, a Mexico City native, is a huge fan of the Colombia-filmed original, created by the late Fernando Gaitán — a visionary, as she calls him. The popular series starred Ana María Orozco in the leading role of Beatriz “Betty” Pinzón Solano.
“As a Latin American girl, I knew the story, I knew what it was about, but when I first learned I was casting for it, I didn’t want to watch the other shows. I wanted to do my own character,” she says. “It’s a different generation and that could change it a lot.”
An obvious addition to the story is the prominence of social media and technology, but the script stays close to its 20-year-old plot, often mirroring the Colombian original more so than ABC’s take. Betty, in search of a midtown job to help pay the bills, ends up landing a gig at V&M, an elite fashion brand run by Armando Mendoza (Erick Elias). As his new assistant, perky women at the company look to sabotage young Betty.
“The most important part about watching this show is the message that it’s sending,” Torres says, adding that it’s still completely relevant in its discussions of self-confidence, immigration, gay rights and more.
The series shot both in New York City (in the obvious spots like Times Square) and on a set in Miami. Torres says she felt a bit of Betty’s “fish out of water” shock while filming midtown during her first trip to the city.
“I can’t believe this is my actual life and this is happening to me,” she says.
The “Ugly Betty” story holds the 2010 Guinness World Record as the most successful telenovela to date, airing in 180 countries and translated in 15 languages.
The Telemundo reboot is still feeling the “Betty” love. Its premiere ranked as the most-viewed program on a Spanish-language television network at 9 p.m., among adults aged 18-49, according to Nielsen data.
“I think people will love it because she’s free,” Torres says. “A lot of women and people aren’t willing to be as free as she is.”
ON TV: "Betty en NY" airs Wednesdays on Telemundo.