Pilotitis: Selfie

John Cho and Karen Gillan star in Selfie, ABC's adaptation of Pygmalion / My Fair Lady.
Selfie (Photo: Eric McCandless / ABC)

Selfie‘s title is regrettable and its pilot could be better, but the chemistry between its leads and potential for growth resist snap judgement.

Show

Selfie, which will air Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.

Premise

Like, what if they did a TV version of My Fair Lady, but, like, if Eliza was a social media-obsessed sales rep who was majorly embarrassed online, realized being friended isn’t that same as having friends, and wanted to rebuild her image, and, like, if Henry Higgins was the marketing genius at her company who agrees to help her out?

Lineage

Selfie is a completely new show, but there’s a lot of familiar faces (and voices) behind the scenes.  Emily Kapnek previously wrote/ran Suburgatory (which found a great balance between humor and heart in exploring city vs. suburbs1), and the two leads, Karen Gillan (as Eliza) and John Cho (as Henry) have previous experience on the small screen, although both are better known for sci-fi than sitcoms (with Cho just finishing up a recurring role on Sleepy Hollow and Gillan making her first appearance on American TV since Doctor Who2.

Who is Selfie For?

Given its name, Selfie is aiming itself right at viewers who may be as selfie-obsessed as Eliza, but the rest of the show seems like a good fit for fans of shows like New Girl3 and The Mindy Project (both of which air against it on Fox).  Fans of Kapnek’s sense of humor and past shows will also feel right at home here.

What Works

Chemistry between Gillan and Cho is fantastic, which is a requirement for a show like this that will lean heavily on the two of them together.  Some of there relationship is a bit predictable in the pilot – she’s social media obsessed!  He hates how tech-reliant we’ve all become!  How will they ever get along? – and the show is clearly angling for a will they/won’t they between Henry and Eliza, but it feels like something that I’d buy occurring between their characters

I also liked that, unlike so many pilots this season, the premise of the show didn’t feel like something that could just as easily be a single 90-minute movie.  There’s open space for Henry to help Eliza continue to improve and become a better person, and there’s lots of places and situations they can put these characters in on a week-by-week basis.

What Doesn’t Work

The diologue (particularly Eliza’s internal thoughts) reeeeeeally needs work.  There’s a lot of social media-themed chatter running through Eliza’s head, and while some of it works (I thought “panic pudding” was particularly clever), there’s a lot that feels like an adult pretending to understand the hip lingo all these kids are using today rather than terms an actual person would use if they were this person.  It feels a bit thick in the pilot, but hopefully this will get improved and toned down as the show finds its full voice in future episodes.

Does This Pass the Bechdel Test?4

The show’s a little thin here – Eliza has conversations with her co-worker Charmonique and her neighbor Bryn, but the conversations still revolve around guys.  In the case of Charmonique, the man in question is her son, but there’s still room for growth here.  On the positive side, the show revolves around Eliza becoming less obsessed with herself and doing better to truly connect with others – hopefully as the show carries on, we’ll see growth in her interactions as well.

Verdict

The pilot seems primed to be love-it-or-hate-it with many viewers (and feels like a B-/C+ episode overall), but I’m willing to give it a few episodes to mellow out with the social media-inflected speech and deepen Eliza and Henry as they team together.  Give it a few chances before unfollowing completely.

  1. and was waaaaaay better than Modern Family  
  2. there’s a “this side of the Pond” joke you here, but I have chosen to leave it in the footnotes  
  3. to the point that there seems to be a very-Zooey Deschanel inspired minor character  
  4. 1. Two named female characters 2. have a conversation 3. about something other than a man.  

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About Ben Smith 228 Articles
Ben has been writing about TV, music, and pop culture in some form or another since 2009, including stints at Mental Floss and Temporary Obsession. When not solving puzzles of some sort or consuming pop culture at a frightening pace, he can be found collecting shiny pieces of the internet at GoodAtInter.net. E-mail: ben@whatelseison.tv