|Greece's Mega Channel was originally supposed to begin airing "Maria, i Asximi" (Μαρια, η Ασχημη; Maria, the Ugly)originally called "Glikia mou Asximi" (Γλυκια μου Ασχημη; Ugly Sweetheart)on November 1, 2006, at 1:00pm. The premiere date and time were switched to January 1, 2007, at 9:00pm. Each 50-minute episode (about 33 minutes without commercials) was rerun the next weekday at 1:10pm. After a couple weeks, the series was supposed to be moved to a 6:15pm timeslot, but the ratings were so good that Mega Channel kept the program in primetime. The series starred Angeliki Daliani as the ugly duckling, Maria Papasotiriou, and Anthimos Ananiadis as her cad of a boss, Alexis Mandas. The extremely popular series ended on June 23, 2008, after 300 episodes that remained faithful to the story of "Yo soy Betty, la fea", yet also introduced a number of amusing peripheral characters and added entertaining subplots that were absent from the original telenovela.
Maria Papasotiriou exudes intelligence, humor, and kindness, but what she is missing is conventional beauty. She considers her appearance to be an obstacle in her search for employment, despite her impressive collection of degrees, which are displayed proudly by her parents, Kaiti and Iraklis. Having no luck in her job search, Maria decides not to attach a photograph of herself to her résumé when she applies for a job for which she is exceedingly overqualified, secretary to Alexis Mandas, the new director of a noted fashion house called Ecomoda.
Alexis is the most coveted bachelor in Athens, but he is romantically involved with Markella Stefanelli, an executive at Ecomoda. His relationship with Markella, however, does not prevent him from having a very active social life of cavorting around the city with any supermodel or other beauty who catches his eye.
When Ecomoda's outgoing president, Alexis's father, Stefanos, announced his plans to retire, Alexis had to vie for the company's top spot along with Markella's brother, Sergios. The Stefanelli siblings, including another sister named Eleonora, inherited their share of the company from their deceased parents, who co-founded Ecomoda with Stefanos. Alexis ensured that he would get Markella's support with the board of directors by surprising her with a public announcement of his intention to marry her.
Stefanos, Markella, and Alexis himself all have concerns regarding Alexis's notorious skirt-chasing ways, so Maria would seem to be the perfect choice to be his secretary. Not only is she intelligent and qualified, but she will also hold no temptation for her boss's active libido. Maria's appearance, however, isn't considered to be appropriate for the secretary of the company's new president, so Markella's pretty blonde friend, Lilian Patrikarea, is hired instead. Alexis isn't pleased to have a woman whom he considers to be Markella's spy as his secretary, so he requests to see the qualified ugly girl, Maria, and he ends up hiring her. To appease Markella, Alexis doesn't fire Lilian. Instead, he stations the decorous blonde outside his office, as more of a receptionist than a secretary, and sequesters the much more qualified Maria in an old storage closet that is accessed from within his own office. Dimitris Vrettos, the company's Marketing Director and Alexis's best friend, relentlessly teases his buddy about his ugly new assistant.
Not wanting to upset her father, Maria lets Iraklis think that she has been hired for a position more fitting for someone with her education and abilities. She doesn't want him to know that she's just a secretary, nor that she's tucked away in a closet. If he were to discover the truth, her father would probably demand that she quit, but knowing that her family is depending on her income, she tries to speak as little as possible about her office duties.
Maria soon proves herself to be loyal and completely trustworthy. Before long, Alexis entrusts her with his "black book," which contains information about all of his love affairs, dates, etc. Markella soon discovers that Maria has this book in her possession and she asks Lilian to get her hands on the book, but they're unsuccessful. From this point onward, Markella considers Maria to be her sworn enemy, believing her to be an accomplice to Alexis's constant infidelities.
At Ecomoda, Maria initially feels like a complete outsider, judging herself quite the ugly duckling in comparison with Lilian and the many models who work for the design house. Soon, however, she meets a clique of middle-class female employees who, not measuring up to the widely-accepted standards of beauty that give women like Lilian an advantage in society, share many of the problems that Maria faces within the superficial world of fashion. Christina is a sassy young woman who hopes to find a wealthy husband who can be a father figure for her young son, Michalakis; Marianna is Markella's young and good-humored secretary who claims to have the gift of second sight; Loukia is the patient, motherly assistant of petulant designer Christo; Martha, a wife and mother who is struggling with her weight, is the secretary of the smarmy Personnel Director, Charis Stergiou; Sofia, the hot-tempered secretary of Economic Director Nikos Maroudas, is dealing with the infidelity of her husband Spyros, who recently left her for a young wannabe model named Popi; Santra, Dimitris's tall secretary, believes that her height hinders her ability to find a husband; and Fani, the cleaning woman who always seems to have a frown upon her face.
Lilian constantly finds herself plagued by financial troubles, deservedly so, because of her extravagant taste for luxuries that she cannot afford, so she constantly tries to get money from the men in her life. She also tries to latch onto Dimitris, but she gets very annoyed after she begins a sexual relationship with him and quickly discovers that he has also had a fling with Christina. Jerry, the mailroom clerk at Ecomoda, also isn't pleased to learn of Christina's flirtation with Dimitris, because he has had his eye on the receptionist for quite a while.
Lilian is also in cahoots with Alexis's enemy, her best friend Markella's brother, Sergios. At one point Sergios forces himself on Lilian, but she doesn't tell Dimitris or anyone else about it. Soon after this she finds herself having a pregnancy scare and tries to use the situation to force Dimitris (or even Sergios) into a commitment, but she soon learns that she is indeed not pregnant. Martha soon discovers the truth and shares the information with her office pals, none of whom can stand Lilian, and they all have a little fun with their pretentious nemesis. Eventually, Dimitris and Sergios find out that neither one is going to be a daddy in the near future and they both cut Lilian out of their personal lives.
Before an important board meeting, at which Alexis is going to give a presentation detailing his business plan, Sergios tries to prevent Alexis's success by having various employees who are under his influence, including Lilian, sabotage the document that Maria is working on. Ultimately, Maria works all night and, with a little help from her friends, she is able to deliver the document in the nick of time, saving the day for her boss. Alexis is so relieved that he even asks Maria to deliver the presentation at the meeting.
Wishing to follow through on his promise to double the company's capital in a short span of time, but lacking the necessary experience to do it, Alexis undertakes projects that leave Ecomoda deeper in debt. When the banks threaten to seize the company, Alexis and Dimitris devise a plan; Alexis asks Maria to create a dummy corporation that would appear to seize Ecomoda, but will in fact leave it in Alexis's control, though it would technically be under Maria's legal ownership. Maria is aware of the illegality of such an undertaking, but she is so moved by Alexis's need for her help that she decides to take the chance. Together they create a puppet company called Terramoda.
Alexis and Dimitris learn that Maria has a close relationship with someone named Nikolas, who is actually just a friend of Maria's since the two were children. The two Ecomoda executives fear that Maria might be influenced by Nikolas to take full control of Terramoda and shut them out, effectively taking over the company. In order to avoid such an outcome, Dimitris suggests to Alexis that it's imperative for him to court Maria, in order for him to keep her in his thrall. Having noticed that the ugly assistant is clearly besotted with her bellicose boss, Dimitris convinces Alexis that it wouldn't take much effort for him to get Maria to forget all about this Nikolas Markakis person.
Alexis reluctantly succumbs to Dimitris's coersion and agrees to tell Maria that although he has been fighting his feelings, he is in love with her. Of course, this declaration is far the truth. Even though there are qualities that Alexis admires about Maria, he is physically repulsed by her. Even though Maria wonders how a man like Alexis could have feelings for her, she is blinded by love, so the two start dating secretly. Maria starts telling her friends that Nikolas is her boyfriend, so they won't be suspicious about her relationship with Alexis. Maria soon decides to make herself more attractive for Alexis, as well as to make a better impression as a serious business woman, so she goes for a makeover, but the results fall far short of making her look like anything but a circus clown.
After a period of romancing Maria, Alexis is soon surprised to discover that he actually has cultivated real feelings for her. After taking Maria out to celebrate her birthday, Alexis lies to Dimitris and tells him that he spent the night with Maria. He didn't actually have sex with her, not because of any feelings of revulsion, but because he didn't want to hurt Maria that way. He also comes to realize that his love for Markella has just been an illusion. Because of this, Alexis promises Maria that he will end his engagement to Markella very soon, conscious the fact that he will not really be able to do it, even though it's exactly what he truly wants to do.
Before departing from Athens on a business trip, Dimitris leaves a long letter in which he lists detailed instructions that his esteemed president should follow in order to keep Maria in love. Dimitris's letter also serves to remind Alexis of their motives, to inspire him to keep the plan in motion. Dimitris tries to cheer Alexis up by telling him that the charade will end as soon as Maria doctors the balance sheet for the next board meeting, which will conceal the seizure of Ecomoda by Terramoda. Of course, the letter is unnecessary, because by this time Alexis already loves Maria and doesn't need to be forced to keep wooing her.
Unfortunately, Maria discovers Dimitris's letter accidentally and is devastated. She mistakenly believes that Alexis has been conning her throughout their entire relationship, not knowing that in his heart the con had ended a long time before. After mourning the loss of the love she shared with Alexis, Maria seems to lose her sense of joy and her enthusiasm for life. To keep Alexis from suspecting that she knows about his deceit, she pretends that she still loves him, even though she doesn't do a very good acting job and it is immediately obvious to Alexis that something is wrong. Dimitris asks Alexis if he's jealous of Nikolas, but instead of admitting that he actually is jealous, Alexis hides his true feelings by making his friend think that his only concern is to prevent Nikolas from stealing his company from him. Maria overhears this and Alexis's words seem to confirm all of the things that she had read in the letter. She has no idea that Alexis just can't admit to Dimitris, or even to himself, that he really loves her. As an act of revenge, Maria conspires with Nikolas to make it look like they are indeed dating and that they might be siphoning money from Terramoda to buy expensive things, like a car. Maria also decides not to disguise the balance sheet that Alexis is supposed to present at the upcoming board meeting.
Gina Kassimati, a business associate of Ecomoda, discovers the truth about Alexis and Maria's affair, so she suggests to Maria that she should quit her job and work for her, which Maria agrees to do right after the board meeting. Maria briefly succumbs to Alexis's supplications and considers disguising the balance sheets, but she changes her mind when she overhears part of a conversation between Alexis and Dimitris during which Dimitris suggests that they should send Maria away after the meeting, so she presents the real balance sheet to the stockholders. Unfortunately, Maria doesn't hear Alexis's reaction to his friend's suggestion, when he tells Dimitris that he can't live without Maria, not even for six hours, and that the only way he could accept sending Maria away is if he were to go with her.
Stefanos expresses his disappointment in the way that Alexis has handled the family enterprise. Maria presents her letter of resignation and retrieves her belongings from her "office" and prepares to leave, but is stopped by Markella, who insists on seeing what is inside Maria's garbage bag. Maria doesn't want Markella to see the evidence of Alexis's wooing, but she is forced to do so after Markella threatens to call security. After seeing all of the cards and trinkets, Markella confronts Alexis regarding his infidelity and the schemes that he and Dimitris had gotten involved in.
Maria becomes Gina's assistant and goes with her to Paris. Alexis is desperate to find her, but in deference to their daughter's wishes, Maria's parents refuse to tell anyone where she has gone. Maria is soon distracted by the attentions of a chef named Filippos, who seems to be attracted to the beautiful person that she is inside. Gina decides to treat Maria to a makeover and she ends up being completely transformed, from ugly duckling to swan.
Back in Athens, there is trouble at Ecomoda because technically everything is still in Maria's name. They desperately need to find her so they can officially transfer ownership and then work towards resolving the company's financial woes. Eventually, Maria gets word of what is going on back at home, so she reluctantly agrees to return, in order to straighten things out.
When Maria returns to Ecomoda, everyone is completely mesmerized by how much she has changed. At a board meeting it is agreed that, because of her business abilities, Maria should run Ecomoda until the company is stable once again. Feeling partial responsibility for the company's current state, she decides to do all she can to fix things as quickly as possible, so she can finally be finished with Ecomoda, for once and for all. Her return brings about more misunderstandings and jealousy, as Alexis worries about Maria's relationship with Filippos, and Maria wonders about Alexis's relationship with a woman named Alexandra Lainoglou, whom he'd recently met.
Alexis reads Maria's diary and realizes how deeply he has hurt her, so he decides to give up any hopes of getting her back and he leaves her to find happiness with Filippos. Maria and Alexis still have to work side by side, so she is able to witness how much pain he is in, but she decides that when the time comes that she can leave Ecomoda she will go to Paris with Filippos. However, the night before Maria is to leave for Paris, Markella visits her to tell her that Alexis loves her. After learning about Alexis's true feelings, Maria breaks up with Filippos and she goes to meet Alexis in Luna Park, which is the amusement park where Alexis first realized that he'd fallen in love with Maria. Alexis, who in his own way has gone through as much of a transformation as Maria, is elated to know that Maria has forgiven him for his past transgressions.
On her wedding day, Maria bids a symbolic farewell to the ugly girl she used to be. When the designated hour of their ceremony arrives, Maria still has not shown up, so Alexis worries that she has changed her mind about marrying him. All ends well, though, after she finally gets there and their lovely outdoor ceremony commences, with all of their friends and family present. Happy endings are in store for some of their loved ones as well: Markella and Odysseas, who have recently reunited, go off on an adventure together; Filippos meets a woman named Roula Antonopoulou at the airport during a luggage mix-up; and Olga (Maria Myriokefalitaki) is "discovered" at the wedding reception by a producer named Dimitris Dervis, of Delta Films.
- The show's theme song, "Poso S' Agapo", was sung by Stamatis Kraounakis.
- At age 21, Anthimos Ananiadis (Alexis Mandas) became the youngest male lead to star in any of the "Yo soy Betty, la fea" adaptations.
- Manos Papagiannis, who played Maria's admirer Filippos, is the real-life boyfriend of Angeliki Daliani, who played Maria.
- As stipulated in her contract, Angeliki Daliani could only give interviews and pose for photographs in character as Maria until the series neared its end.
- June 2008 was a notable month in Betty history because, in addition to the wedding finale of "Maria, i Asximi", Spain's "Yo soy Bea" and Belgium's "Sara" also had their big wedding episodes. Spain's wedding was on Friday the 20th, Greece's on Monday the 23rd, and Belgium's on Tuesday the 24th.
- The final three episodes (numbers 299, 300, and 301) aired on the same night, June 23, 2008. The first aired at 6:50pm and the final two were shown back-to-back starting at 9:00pm.
- In the last episode, Eleonora says that she's creating a series called "Eleonora, i Asximi" (Ugly Eleonora) for Mega Channel.
- On July 10, 2008, Angeliki Daliani ("Maria, I Asximi"), Veerle Baetens ("Sara"), and Nyncke Beekhuyzen ("Lotte") appeared at Roma Fiction Fest to participate in a celebration of "Yo soy Betty, la fea" and all of its international incarnations. The event, entitled "Fenomenale Betty", took an in-depth look at the cultural impact of the show's various incarnations and their effect on pop culture worldwide. Fernando Gaitán, creator of the original telenovela also appeared, along with representatives of other versions, such as Marianna Cortes McAllister, who was responsible for adapting Spain's "Yo soy Bea", and Michael Esser, who wrote Germany's "Verliebt in Berlin". To read details of the event, click here.
- After "Maria, I Asximi" ended, Anthimos Ananiadis sought work in the United States and started using the name Anthem Moss.
|© Tony Lagarto|
I'd like to extend my special thanks to lelaki100, eileen, Tina756, and many other helpful people whom I'd "met" online at the "Maria, i Asximi" forum at the telenovelaslatinas.com message board, for answering my questions about the Greek language and providing me with some of the episode summaries, pictures, news, and information about the show's cast members that I've used here on this page.