In order to capitalize on the reboots and/or re-imaginings craze that is hitting televisions this fall (and next fall and the next), ABC has turned to the classics, adapting George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" into a sitcom. Okay, it's probably influenced more by the Lerner and Lowe musical and Cukor film My Fair Lady than Shaw's play. Don't worry, Selfie doesn't live up to any of them. The reimagining is not very good, but, to be fair, it's quite a bit better than its terrible title suggests.
Selfie stars Doctor Who's (or should I say Guardians of the Galaxy's) Karen Gillan as Eliza Doolittle, sorry, Dooley, an insufferable social media personality. At the beginning of the story, Dooley has an eye-opening (and vomit-filled) experience and turns to John Cho's Henry Higgins, sorry Higgs, to help her rebrand herself. Or, as he puts it, become a better person. However, we soon learn that the emotionally distant Henry could also use a makeover of sorts while Eliza is getting her 'makeunder.' It's a mutually beneficial relationship that will obviously turn romantic down the line. Will they? Won't they? All that jazz.
My main problem with Selfie (beyond the title) is the opening ten minutes, which is terrible. If you can somehow make it through that barrage of cringe-worthy lines, unfunny set-pieces and Gillan's truly unbearable character, it does get better. There's been an ongoing debate about how important having 'likeable' characters is for a film or a television show and I'm firmly of the mind that they only need to be compelling for us to invest in their journey. It's a little harder for comedies but Larry David and Hannah Horvath prove that being unlikable can work wonders. That being said, none of their series are conventional network sitcoms and Selfie suggests that it might be the one format where likability does play a role.
I get that her personality is supposed to be grating, but Gillan's Eliza is so unbearably obnoxious for the majority of the pilot, especially the first-half, that I couldn't see myself wanting to hang out with this person every week let alone laugh at their exploits and/or atrocious dialogue. It kind of felt like being stuck on public transit. Cho's Henry is much more tolerable and yet even his character spouts some ridiculous lines. I think he may have offered advice to her in rhyming couplets at one point and played it off like it was no big deal. Luckily, as the pilot progressed, I found myself liking Henry more and more and even started to find the entire show sort of charming.
David Harewood delivers a quirky turn as Sam, the head of the marketing firm where both Henry and Eliza work, and the rest of the supporting cast (Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Allyn Rachel and Tim Piper) are equally, uh, likeable. In fact, the second half of the pilot was a huge improvement, mostly cause we got more characters but also since Eliza ate her humble pie and starts to operate at a level somewhere just below insufferable. She even sneaks in a few moments before the end that had me warming to her character. Her presence no longer made me want to escape to my many devices and tweet about how Selfie was giving me suicidal thoughts.
And some genuine chemistry with Cho was starting to show through before the end credits rolled. Suddenly, I was engaged with the sitcom and wondering if I somehow misjudged the first ten minutes. Would I have to watch them again? Then one of the characters said something incredibly cringe-worthy and it was back to square one. There really is a lot to dislike about ABC's new comedy yet also just enough charm to make me wonder what it could possibly become given some time. Will I return? I'll probably just wait to see what twitter has to say about the second episode. #RoomForImprovement.
Selfie airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Created by Emily Kapnek and based on characters from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" (as well as the Lerner and Lowe musical and George Cukor film My Fair Lady), the series stars Karen Gillan, John Cho, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Allyn Rachel, Tim Piper and David Harewood.
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