The pilot of new ABC sitcom Selfie has gone up on Hulu, and since it stars the adorable Karen Gillan and fantastic John Cho, I had to check it out!
A modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady, Selfie stars Doctor Who's Karen Gillan as Eliza, a successful social media addict who realizes that, for all her likes and retweets, she has no real friends, and John Cho as Henry, the stuck-up marketing genius she convinces to help fix her life.
The concept is pretty ridiculous, and all the attempts to show Eliza as a "social media addict" are cringeworthy at best, but Karen Gillan and John Cho are both adorable as the show's leads. The show struggles to find its feet, especially when it tries to hammer home any references to its plot conceit, but the final scene in particular is sweet and genuine and promises good things to come.
The show also manages that seemingly impossible feat of introducing diversity into a sitcom world. John Cho plays the (inevitably romantic) male lead, both the boss and the secretary are African American, and we actually get the rare sight of two non-white characters on screen at the same time, talking to one another. Add in Eliza's plot-important conversations with said secretary and her time with her frenemies in her apartment block, and we're comfortably into a traditional Bechdel pass as well. Even better, the neighbors that Eliza thinks she hates actually turn out to be nice human beings, with a genuine friend dynamic including book discussions and random singing of Lady Gaga.
But there's one big question hovering over the entire show: should there be a modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady? The entire show is based on the idea that Eliza needs a guy to teach her how to be a not-horrible person, and although Selfie tries to suggest that Eliza will help and change Henry as much as he helps and changes her, the set-up is still incredibly uncomfortable. Eliza is a shallow, vapid, self-absorbed woman addicted to a supposedly vapid and self-absorbed form of communication -- social media -- and in the pilot, Henry not only teaches her to focus on the real world and be nice to people, but also how to "de-slut" in order to be "suitable" to attend a wedding. While Henry feels like a normal human being who is slightly uptight and judgemental, Eliza is 100% caricature, and although Karen Gillan gives the character some heart, she can't change the fact that Eliza is the walking embodiment of many negative, exaggerated stereotypes about modern twenty-something women. Sure, Henry is clearly going to fall for her, and she's going to influence him too, but while she teaches him how to loosen up and have fun, he teaches her basic principles of being an acceptable human being. It's hardly equal, and the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable it becomes.
And perhaps I'm being stubborn, especially as the show has a very tongue-in-cheek tone, but I don't see why Eliza has to change as much as the show suggests. Yes, she doesn't know how to make friends and is self-absorbed, but can't she work on that without changing every single thing about her appearance and personality? She could be a really fun and interesting female lead... but only if the show respects her as a character and allows her to continue to be bold and confident and somewhat brash. If she's diminished into somebody who's smaller and so seems more acceptable, it's going to be a real mess of a show.
But if you just don't think about that stuff, the show is rather bright and light and cute, and it has potential. It's not laugh-out-loud, at least for me, but it's a cute show. If it can get over its forced concept and avoid the problems its created, it could even be a good show. But those are going to be some pretty big hurdles to cross.
The pilot is available on Hulu if anyone wants to check it out.