Ugly Betty‘s Mode After Hours: A Missed Opportunity

[show=uglybetty size=large]These days we’re seeing more and more webseries, of varying degrees of web-savviness, pop up to support current network programming. And each time, I try and work out what the motivation is. Does the web-only content provide additional insight into the world of the characters and the show? Does it clarify plot twists or hint at upcoming mysteries? Or is it just a network’s attempt to prove that they get the Internet just as well as anyone else?

Mode After Hours, a webseries spun off from the popular ABC series Ugly Betty, consists of five-minute wacky adventures with Marc (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton), two assistants at the fashion magazine around which the soap opera/comedy hybrid revolves. The first episode, Big Package, reveals what Amanda does with many of the packages that come across her desk; in the second, April Fools (released, oddly, a solid week before April 1), the two plot nasty pranks to pull on Betty. The “after hours” gimmick boils down to setting the two actors loose on the show’s pre-existing sets for five minutes of bantering. It’s a low-budget enterprise, well-produced and cleverly written.

However, as quirky as Marc and Amanda are, are they really the two characters people want to see more of, especially given that their role on the show is to complicate Betty’s life and put her down? I mean, why are we suddenly excited about the mean kids at the office? Are they really the best calling card for the series? Also, I’m not a regular Ugly Betty viewer, so I found references to current show developments going over my head (even after getting a quick briefing from a more up-to-date fan). Without any inclusion of the more charming elements of the show (such as Betty’s fumbling attempts at love or intense bond with her family), plus a pretty harsh reminder that you can’t just jump into the series without a solid understanding of the backstory, it’s hard to imagine any newcomer coming back again. Thus, as a means of drawing in new viewers for its parent show, Mode After Hours is pretty much a failure.

But fortunately that’s not its raison d’etre, as the series is being updated weekly to bridge the six-week gap between Betty‘s last new episode, March 17, and its return on May 7 — a clever way to keep the show alive in the minds of its audience. It’s this scheduling decision that makes Mode vital, not its content (though if you can’t get a full hour of catty soap opera comedy, then a five-minute fix is a good substitute).

The first season of Mode After Hours, according to Alexis Rapo of ABC.com at NewTeeVee Live, racked up 8.5 million views last September, and there’s no reason to think that this new run of episodes won’t be just as successful. But I do wish that this had been seen as a two-part opportunity — a chance to make new friends, even while they kept the old.