When I heard Karen Gillan and John Cho would be starring in ABC’s modernized adaptation of My Fair Lady, I was skeptical. Hopeful, but skeptical. I’m a huge fan of both stars, so I figured that if the show let them shine, it would be worth watching. I’m glad to say that I think I may have been right.
Right off the bat it’s a fast-paced comedy with quick jokes slipped in between lines that you’ll miss if you aren’t paying attention. Gillan’s portrayal of Eliza Dooley is predictably shallow and ditzy, but there’s an element of charm that makes it kind of hard to hate her. The show gives a little too much effort into showing that she used to be an unpopular girl, and that even with her internet fame she still lacks real friends. But it does give her an earnest story arc, and establishes very early that she’ll need assistance from Cho’s Henry Higgs.
Gillan and Cho have undeniable chemistry on screen together, and the show would do well to focus more on that blossoming relationship, and less on things like Eliza’s new neighbor friends. The ukulele “make-under” scene was a bit too embarrassing to overlook. There are a lot of cheesy bits to the episode, as well as the slapstick “naked in public” trope to show us that Eliza is meant to be thought of sexually (in case the outright innuendos weren’t enough for you to take the hint). The incorporation of social media trends are also fast indications that this is not a “high art” program – but the hashtags, feels, and meme references aren’t too heavy handed to be glaringly irritating. They’re often quick, and pretty painless.
It has its definite problems. The pilot did a terrible job of characterizing Eliza herself, which was only saved by Gillan’s performance. She’s immediately introduced as the best sales rep in the company, yet with a swift backhand, a no-name male character implies it’s her sexual promiscuity that earned it for her. Henry joins him in groaning about her obsession with social media, which could be a legitimate social commentary (and strikes it pretty close with her lonely bath texting scene) but instead is used as a way to show that Eliza needs to be “fixed.” It’s hard not to think that the message this sends to women who are popular on apps like Instagram and Twitter is that they’re not successful for the “right” reasons, and need a man to change them. Eliza is not outright rude to anyone, she’s actually a decent human being with off-putting narcissism. Eliza’s priorities are not so revealing of her character as they are of the writers’ condescending attitudes about their content.
Overall, Selfie is off to a shaky start but carries potential. As long as the show takes its next few steps carefully, capitalizes on Karen and John’s dynamic, avoids uncomfortable generalization humor in favor of quips and laughable situations, they may be able to hike up their ratings from last night. They’ve got the formula, they’ve just got to make it work.