The big news in season three of Ugly Betty is the big move to New York City. No, not Betty's move (although that does occur), the show's move. Although the pilot for the series was shot in New York City, the rest of the first two seasons were shot in Los Angeles. The third season, however, was shot in New York City and that change has a dramatic effect on the series.
Ugly Betty's third season features far more exterior shots of easily recognizable places in Manhattan. The shots all help squarely place a show which takes place in New York City actually in New York City. Additionally, the shots give the series a more dynamic feel – no longer is the show as confined to interiors because no longer does any exterior have to be faked. Where green screen shots used to be used to film scenes outside of Betty's house in Queens, now the third season actually has shots in Queens.
Obsessive fans of the show will also note that the offices of MODE, the magazine Betty works at, have changed somewhat. As documented in one of the special features the changes were necessitated by the new shooting space — it is slightly disconcerting as there is something indefinably "different" about the offices, but the aesthetics of the place remain the same.
Also slightly different in this season of the show are the characters. Yes, Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) still works at the fashion magazine, MODE; still can't dress; and still has an awkward – at best – love life; but her plan for career advancement this season is far more complete than just pleasing her boss and praying that something comes of that. Mark (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton) become more three-dimensional characters. Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius) proves he has a heart, and he's even willing (to some extent) to work with Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams).
Even on the home front, things change slightly, with Hilda (Ana Ortiz) staying more grounded in reality and Ignacio (Tony Plana) heart aches and pains. Justin (Mark Indelicato), happily, remains mostly unchanged.
To be sure, none of the changes are major or in any way outlandish – the characters remain the kooky, lovable-even-when-they're-oh-so-evil people they have been in past seasons – they just exhibit the growth one would expect from actual human beings over the course of three years.
The biggest change the show sees creatively this year is the diminishment of multi-episode schemes and mysteries. There are multi-episode story arcs and there are mysteries, but the mysteries seem to not be the multi-episode arcs this go-round. This alteration actually works quite well for the series as all too often soap opera-esque shows that set up such multi-episode mysteries end up never quite reproducing in latter seasons the intrigue – and therefore success – of earlier ones.
At its heart, however, Ugly Betty, even filming in New York, remains true to the show's core concept in the third season. The plotlines that pop up (multi-episode and otherwise) are interesting, and Betty even finds a new love, which, of course, only leads to more problems for her.
In the review of season two's boxed set, it was noted that Mark and Amanda were two of the best characters on the show, and that remains true in the third season. The two, as noted above, do become more three-dimensional this year (Mark as he relates to Betty's life at a publishing training program and Amanda as Betty's roommate). Additionally, this year's boxed set even features webisodes of Mode After Dark, which focus exclusively on Mark and Amanda at the office at night.
Season three also features its share of guest stars, unquestionably the best of which is Bernadette Peters' recurring role as the instructor in Betty's training program. Peters, always dynamic whether on stage, in film, or on television, portrays the exact sort of over-the-top funny character that fits in perfectly with the world of Ugly Betty.
In addition to the aforementioned special features, the new boxed set contains a blooper reel, copious amounts of deleted scenes, an audio commentary from producers for an episode, and one episode with a picture-in-picture discussion with Urie and Newton.
Though Ugly Betty's ratings may have been down in its third season, the show remains just as fun, involving, and fresh as it was in its first two outings. I certainly hope to see many more season boxed sets in the future.