Tuesday, October 28, 2014

All By My "Selfie"

There aren't many shows this season that I've been interested in enough to check out. There's too much that I need to catch up on, and little room on my plate for anything new. However, the chatter around one ABC sitcom did catch my attention. "Selfie," a modern-day social-networking-centric spin on "My Fair Lady," stars Karen Gillan and John Cho as Eliza Dooley and Henry Higgs respectively, a pair who live at opposite extremes when it comes to internet usage. She's a superficial Twitter addict who lives too much of her life online and lacks real, meaningful personal connections. He's an uptight Luddite workaholic who is a genius at rebranding but a mess in relationships. Henry takes on Eliza as a new project and as she learns to be less self-centered, he learns to loosen up. And because we have John Cho as the first Asian-American romantic male lead in an American sitcom, Asian solidarity mode is definitely on.

The pilot was terrible, but there are enough good things developed in the subsequent episodes to hold my interest. My fascination with "Selfie" is currently twofold. First, I like the leads, who are both getting a well-deserved shot at the larger spotlight after lots of good supporting work. John Cho in has bounced from series to series over the past few years and I've been hoping that he finally lands a steady gig somewhere. Karen Gillan, who was such a big reason to keep up with the recent seasons of "Doctor Who," definitely deserves a higher profile too. The pair have good chemistry together and are vital in rescuing two unlikeable characters from themselves. Eliza was downright grating when introduced and has been softened up considerably since. Meanwhile, Henry was entirely too self-assured and has benefited greatly from the addition of more neuroses. "Selfie" is clearly still in the process of getting the characters balanced and the tone of its snarky, rapid-fire, topical humor sorted out.

I'm also enamored of the weird, exaggerated, social-media savvy universe that "Selfie" has created, that satirizes common forms of internet usage and internet culture. The show has been hit-or-miss with this so far. Nobody aside from the most vapid teenagers talks like Eliza does, with a vocabulary full of strung-together hashtags and buzzwords. Henry would never be chided for taking a personal stand against Facebook, particularly in light of recent privacy concerns that have prompted many high profile figures to swear off social media. However, the show does make some interesting observations about how we live in the era of Instagram and tweeting, and I wonder if it might end up being prescient of how people will interact with each other in another ten years or so. There's a lot of good material here that is well worth exploring. It's only scratched the surface of the generational divide, for instance. Henry is a Gen Xer, the last pre-internet generation, while Eliza is firmly Gen Y.

A big weakness that needs some attention is the thin roster of supporting characters, which could end up making or breaking the show. The single-mom receptionist Charmonique (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) has been the most promising of them. She's had the benefit of a whole episode devoted to her to get her past the sassy black mom stereotype. Eliza's nerdy neighbor Bryn (Allyn Rachel), however, is way too one-note for the amount of screen time that she's gotten. It's always nice to see David Harewood, but as Henry and Eliza's boss he's barely made an impression so far. Other recurring characters are various co-workers who are clearly going to need some time to establish themselves. However, since "Selfie" has been among the lower rated new shows, they may never get the chance to.

Honestly, I'm not sure that it should. The show's "Pygmalion" premise needs to change if it's going to sustain the series longer than a season. While I like Gillan and Cho, these aren't parts that they're particularly well suited for. I'm missing Karen Gillan's Scottish accent in particular. "Selfie" has steadily been improving from week to week, but it may not be quickly enough. I've been enjoying it though, and I'm glad that everyone involved got this shot.


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