Apart from a truly stupid name, ABC‘s Selfie has a lot going for it on paper. Karen Gillan is able, and comes with legions of Doctor Who fans, who are apt to tune into anything she’s in for a while at least. John Cho has fans as well, and doesn’t get the credit he deserves, largely because Harold & Kumar doesn’t exactly move you up on the Taken Seriously list. Plus, it’s yet another update of Pygmalion (though ABC‘s website irritatingly refers to it as loosely based on My Fair Lady), and those generally do pretty well for themselves.
On the other hand, the show’s concept has a few hurdles to get over. The show spins the character of Eliza Dooley (Gillan) around, as she is in this incarnation a self-absorbed social media star with over 250,000 followers, who largely revels in her ‘famous for being famous’ status. When a workplace mishap goes viral, she comes up with the idea that Henry (Cho), a marketing genius, could ‘rebrand’ her. The obvious switch here is that Eliza Doolittle is supposed to simply be unpolished and without the social graces that would see her fitting in with upper class society, but she isn’t at all unlikable. Here, Eliza is a vacuous product of all that is wrong with her generation, which flips what we’re lampooning by the whole affair, and leaves the show with an uphill climb for our interest, since the whole point is that she’s difficult to like and has no idea how to connect to people.
Fortunately, Gillan and Cho have the natural charm to pull audiences in, and the show is, for the most part, written solidly enough that it manages to spend most of its time referring to Eliza’s less palatable qualities, but offering up a character it’s possible to root for. That still leaves a writing trap in play, in that if we make her too likable, we’re negating the whole premise.
The show quickly establishes its situation, with Henry offering up fashion advice and giving Eliza “person-friendly” nuggets, like that she should perhaps acknowledge that other people exist, but both of them soon realize that the job may be too much for either of them to handle. Henry is basically repulsed by everything about Eliza that makes her want to change in the first place, and even if Eliza does want a persona makeover, she isn’t happy with continued exposure to stuffy, workaholic Henry, who may have just as much trouble with people as she does.
With the help of Charmonique (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the receptionist for the company both Henry and Eliza work for, who works as a kind of “normal” touchstone for both of them, our odd couple will both end up learning how to better fit into society… or whatever the press release says.
Much of the show is fun, although it kicks off a little rough, but it’s hard to tell where it’s going to go, and how long it can run and still make sense. There’s something infectious about the interplay we get to see, even if it sometimes devolves into fairly silly situations that are difficult to digest (such as the end, “rain slip,” of the first episode), and that will likely carry the show for a few episodes. The question is where the effort can go. At some point Henry is ineffective, and boringly so, or we need a new structure to care about. For now, it’s worth giving a chance, but it’s as likely to leave you disappointed if you make it to the tenth episode as it is to continue to hold your interest.
All of this, of course, is assuming that any particular viewer can make it past the fact that the show is likely to be as annoying itself as Eliza’s character is made out to be. It’s not as easy to overlook as it might sound, and when Eliza’s App game noises interrupt a wedding ceremony, it isn’t particularly fun or funny, and highlights the show’s difficulty in aiming for a character that can get Likes, but can’t be liked.
We might have been better off starting the show a few episodes in, when we’ve at least rubbed the roughest edges off of Eliza, and perhaps returned to the beginning of the adventure in flashback form, after we’ve managed to develop some interest in Eliza.
It’s an unfortunate position that show puts everyone in, and it makes it so that there is little to especially recommend, and quite a bit to make you nervous. It could develop into a winner, and it has the stars to make for a lot of potential, but it doesn’t give you the meat of any wow factor, at least not nearly to the extent it needs to overcome the built-in problems. You have to give the show credit for bravery though.
Selfie First Look