"Plain Jane" is a perfectly serviceable unscripted "Ugly Betty."
Proudly shallow and utterly shameless in its use of cinematic cues, “Plain Jane” is a perfectly serviceable unscripted “Ugly Betty,” conveniently scrunched into a single hour. The series is hosted by Louise Roe (“The City”), who instantly becomes her weekly project’s best girlfriend — provided that girlfriend is a hot Brit with keen fashion sense and a bottomless wallet for accessorizing. All told, it looks like a shrewd fit with the young-female drama niche the CW has carved out — and could easily be called upon to replace the netlet’s first Nielsen ugly duckling to go under come fall.
In any makeover show, casting is everything, and they certainly have a fine pigeon for the premiere: a dead ringer for Olive Oyl who awkwardly stumbles around, dreaming about the male friend for whom she’s spent years pining.
Roe’s goal is to transform this young woman until her would-be beau is “drooling,” functioning like a chummy fairy godmother — albeit one who personally favors flattering short skirts.
The makeover process, of course, has to be milked as much as possible, which includes dispatching the trainee to a dog park, where she’s assigned to flirt with strange guys. Adding to the merriment, Roe listens in from a distance and provides little electric shocks whenever her “Jane” slips up — marking perhaps the first time the CW and Pavlov have been mentioned in the same paragraph.
Not only is “Plain Jane” built for product placement (a Bloomingdale’s gift card figures in the opener), but it’s designed for happy endings in a concise package — an intermediate step from animated Disney princesses and live-action Disney Channel movies to romantic comedies.
Roe watches the last act through a crack in the doorway, eagerly reporting back to the camera. Even when she’s chiding the poor lass for wearing something that’s too juvenile, there’s something nicely unpretentious about her — more the “Queer Eye” gang than Simon Cowell.
While “Plain Jane” hardly amounts to a feminist breakthrough (egad, far from it), given the appetite for such fare, the CW — having kissed plenty of unscripted frogs — might have found a glass slipper that fits.