One of the big TV industry buzz items this week is the cancellation of ABC single-cam comedy Selfie, starring Karen Gillan and John Cho (of Doctor Who and Star Trek fame, as ABC themselves incessantly pointed out). The comedy is yet another take on the My Fair Lady/Pygmalion approach: turn a woman who's less than a lady into something more. In this case, it's Gillan's Eliza, a pharmaceuticals rep who has her head buried in social media about as literally as you can get. After being disappointed in her real life relationships (including her love life) she approaches her co-worker, Cho's Henry (the sharp-eyed will note the names as an homage to Shaw's original Pygmalion) about trying to have a greater connection with the real world. Although the two agree to avoid having a mutual attraction to each other (with Eliza currently in a relationship and Henry simply not interested in one), it's obvious from the show's overtly "RomCom" setup that the guiding hand of the writers and producers are determined to make them see otherwise. And perhaps that's where the show's greatest strengths - and weaknesses - lie.
Topshot from DigitalTrends.com
It's easy to see where the show faltered in its earliest episodes. Eliza starts off as someone so engaged in social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - you name it; as dated as some of the pop culture references go at least it was more or less on top of evolving social media including the mechanics of SnapChat) that she comes off as an imbecile and even more than a bit of a woman-child, enough to be very off-putting. Combine that with her casual attitudes towards her relationships and sex - and moreover, how the show portrays that attitude and its consequences - and its easy to interpret Selfie's Eliza as a model for slut-shaming. Henry (and Cho) himself can also be off-putting, being a very cold, stick-up-the-ass character who always seems to be calculating every move he makes including what to eat for breakfast (a recent episode reveals his own "flirting blindness" when he'd rather discuss the inventory cost of a free cookie than accept the dating invitation). It takes a while for the series to build up its charm, but when it gets there the rewards pay off for the RomCom faithful. Another recent episode had Henry finally reaching out to Eliza after realizing she really is his better half, by horseback no less - yes, it's exactly as cheesy as it sounds, and the context doesn't guarantee that they're opening up to each other romantically, but the show sets it up to be beautiful nonetheless. And with an ultimate kicker - now both are staring down at their phones and their texts, instantly becoming all but completely oblivious to each others' presence. Eliza hasn't completely kicked the habit, but Henry is opening up.
It may be too little too late, but Emily Kapnek's (of Suburgatory fame) series is finally blooming into perhaps the series she always meant it to be - yet another quirky relationship of how two opposites better themselves through moderating each other. I still maintain that Cho is a bit stiff in his acting and portrayal (and likewise intentionally so, given Henry) but he's apparently pretty popular with friends of mine who also watch the show. Gillan's Eliza is energetic and very fun to watch onscreen, beyond just her immensely unfair beauty. It's clear Gillan is legitimately having a good time being on the show despite its tanking ratings and now cancellation and that breathlessly translates onscreen (perhaps the main thing keeping the show afloat even this long, barely outlasting companion show Manhattan Love Story). The two actors, especially in the latest episodes, are at least making a go of "America's favorite Ginger-Korean Interracial Couple." Now that the show has finally found its footing in its twilight hour, it can perhaps at least go out on a high note.
Of course, I might be a little biased as I actually kind of lived through Selfie myself. Well, not quite: this is obviously going to require some qualification.
Like Henry, I myself am Asian-American. And I actually did date an impossibly beautiful redhead for an extended period of time. And like Eliza, she also had an addition, except instead of social media it was good old fashioned alcoholism.
As you might imagine, we were polar opposites: again, like Henry, I was...a bit of a stick in the mud and quite frankly a social moron. My ex was flighty and as you might expect from an unapologetic alcoholic (when we went to interview for a job together, she actually carried alcohol right into the interview room) more than a little unreliable with more than her share of emotional baggage. Our extreme ends were simply too much to support the relationship, and so we broke apart. I can't help but blame myself, as I see a lot of Henry's inability to relate to people through inexperience and apathy in myself, and vice-versa. I also see a lot of Eliza's flightiness and inability to relate to people through addiction in my ex, and vice-versa. I have to say Kapnek got a lot of the mechanics of the relationship right, at least through my perspective and experience.
And thus why Selfie holds a special place in my heart, even on the eve of its final episodes. It serves as a surprisingly fond, pleasant and nostalgic reminder of a relationship that nonetheless went south. Perhaps in an odd way it's a window into an alternate universe where things could have worked out, where my ex was perhaps addicted to something more mundane than the sauce. But, such is life as they say. The only thing I can add is that I sincerely hope she's doing well and at least doing something to help fight her addiction.
Well, there are a few more things I can add: another thing Selfie gets right is avoiding the cardinal sin of making onscreen social media look dumb. The onscreen portrayal of social media and how it truly interacts with people is as breathless and seamless as Gillan's performance, and hopefully (along with other shows and movies like The Fault in Our Stars) will be the future model of his this is done in the future. Selfie managed to garner quite a few strengths here and there in its depiction of our lives in the social media-sphere, our relationships in cyberspace and in the real world, and what makes it all both ugly and beautiful, but in the end, a few stumbling blocks and perhaps ABC's own bad luck in the "Tuesday Night Death Slot" probably doomed it from the moment it was scheduled. So enjoy the episodes while you can, and remember: we'll always have SnapChat. Until the next thing comes around.
Update: It's just been announced that Selfie has effectively been pulled off the air. Its likely last episode air date was, as it turns out, the original posting date of this article.