Idiot Box: “Selfie”
 Alibi V.23 No.39 • Sept 25-Oct 1, 2014 

Idiot Box

#sitcom, #topical

“Selfie” on ABC

With TV losing viewers every day to cell phone videos and “freemium” iPad games, networks are fighting back—mostly in lame ways, like tacking hashtags on to shows (“#CandidlyNicole,” “#RichKids of Beverly Hills”) in hopes of tricking people into thinking they’re ... what? Tweets? I don’t honestly know. So it’s surprising it’s taken this long for someone to come up with a TV show that full-on revels in today’s climate of YouTube celebrities, Snapchat sexting and ASMR videos (they’re a thing, look them up).

“Selfie” is ABC’s winkingly self-aware new sitcom about fame and success in the internet age. The show stars former “Doctor Who” companion Karen Gillan as Eliza Dooley. Eliza is a successful pill-pushing saleswoman at a major pharmaceutical company. She’s also an internet star with a quarter million Twitter and Facebook followers who hang on her every duckface selfie and “What I had for lunch” Vine. Vapid, self-absorbed and basically unaware of anything that doesn’t take place on her cell phone screen, Eliza has set herself up for a very big fall—which occurs when an airplane flight, a cheating lover and two large airline sickness bags conspire to reward her with an #EpicFail. Since those who live by the sword are condemned to die by it, Eliza instantly becomes an internet laughing stock, the butt of a thousand cruel memes.

[T]he show is obviously hyperconscious of the world we now live in. Thankfully the nonstop monsoon of multimedia references is delivered with just enough snark that it doesn’t feel like some unwelcomingly incomprehensible Subreddit category.

But she spots her salvation in Luddite, social media-hating coworker Henry (John Cho from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Star Trek). Henry works in marketing, and he’s a wizard at rebranding dangerous or useless products. Surely he can do something to rehabilitate Eliza’s shattered digital rep.

If that sounds suspiciously like the plot to My Fair Lady (and by extension Pygmalion), that’s because it is. “Selfie” probably wouldn’t work as a computer-age knockoff of the familiar tale if it weren’t so upfront about it. The main characters are named Eliza and Henry, after all. And the show is obviously hyperconscious of the world we now live in. Thankfully the nonstop monsoon of multimedia references is delivered with just enough snark that it doesn’t feel like some unwelcomingly incomprehensible Subreddit category.

“Selfie” is written and executive produced by Emily Kapnek, who created the occasionally snappy ABC series “Suburgatory.” “Selfie” has much of the same manic energy, and when the show is firing on all cylinders, it works. Gillan and Cho are sharp performers, and they do some good work here. Gillan, swallowing as much of her English accent as she can, is deft at occasionally letting her guard down and showing the insecurities underneath her character’s oblivious bravado. Cho, meanwhile, isn’t afraid to sacrifice a bit of dignity and admit his character is a judgmental workaholic. It’s a decent setup, with both characters needing one another. Corny as it might sound, the pilot successfully imparts the moral that “being friended is not the same thing as having friends.”

But the big question is whether this premise is worthy of a weekly series. Two years from now, will Henry still be trying to teach Eliza the value of putting down your cell phone and actually talking to people? Or will the show outlive its usefulness like an online Bitcoin exchange?

“Selfie” premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 7pm on KOAT-7.