Surprise! ABC’s “Selfie” is REALLY Good

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In the realm of vapid self-absorption, ABC’s Selfie seeks to showcase the queen: Eliza Dooley, played by the wonderful Karen Gillan. We know she’s wonderful because she’s Amy Pond, and if you read this blog often enough you’ll know that several of us not only have a thing for redheads, but we are huge Doctor Who fans. Beyond that, Karen also had some of the best screen presence as a blue cyborg assassin named Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy (yeah, we gushed a bit about that one too).

The disembodied “they” are calling Selfie a contemporary, social media infused take on Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. You might not recognize the names, but you’ll recognize the plot (from Wikipedia): “The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a lady.” Gillan’s Eliza embodies everything despicable about the corruption inherent in the digital age; she’s self absorbed and cares more about the “Likes” on her Instagram and Friend Requests on her Facebook than she does genuine interests or actual human connections. Beyond that, she’s quite honestly a bit trampy, absurd, and speaks in fast strings of incoherent #hashtags in that annoying way you’ve only ever heard people do ironically. She has more followers on Instagram than you’ll ever see because she posts scandalous and glamorous pics all day every day. And let’s be real: Karen Gillan is a total fox, so we believe it. And before you accuse me of slut-shaming, rest assured that this is satire at work, and we are meant to pass the same judgment on Eliza that her peers do. John Cho plays this version of Henry Higgins, now called Henry Higenbottam, in case you weren’t sure that this was most definitely a My Fair Lady port.

I never, in a million years, dreamed that this show could be anything worthwhile. Karen Gillan is a fantastic actress. Quite literally, I adore her. It’s only for that reason that I even decided to try watching the show on Hulu. But seriously, look at this trailer:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a snob of the snobbiest order (so snobby that I snobbishly and openly despise Woody Allen’s entire body of work). I’ll admit that this looked god awful.

But let me also admit, before an audience of my social media contacts and internet peers, that I was totally delighted with Selfie. I stopped watching the pilot after only eight minutes so that I could start writing this review. I wasn’t even going to bother writing anything at all originally. I had some spare time and figured I’d give it a watch, if only for Karen’s sake, and I was taken aback. Maybe it’s just Gillan’s charm. Maybe it’s the fact that the show constantly reaffirms its satirical nature while openly (and literally) admitting to being a modern retelling of My Fair Lady. There’s just something really smart and really earnest about this show. It just clicks; the way it visually integrates random social media logos and hashtags, weaving technology into a visual medium that hasn’t ever really been done this effectively. Sherlock and House of Cards integrate texting in their own ways, which I always found distracting, but Selfie makes it work. Selfie says something really important about our dependency on social media and our disengagement from reality, and Selfie criticizes that in a lighthearted and easily accessible way. The critique is obvious and all too common, but this show does it well.

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The comedic timing of everything, though rife with dick jokes and phallic references that flirt with the boundary of offensively sexual, is downright hilarious. The show is honest and earnest, and most of that good character falls on Gillan’s genuinely good performance. The lines between “rebranding personal image” in the digital age and legitimately “becoming a better person” are blurred. You smile, because that’s so twenty-first century! #firstworldproblems

There’s this vernacular that comes out, infused with hashtags and half-phrases, like simply calling someone “butt” instead of “butt ugly”. It makes you feel like the advertising firm that Eliza works for is just full of Schmidt (of New Girl fame) clones, and rather than come off as overwhelming it’s delightful.

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Selfie is undeniably a smart show, which probably surprises you to hear as much as it does me to say it. Not only does it correctly utilize the term “coxcomb” — employing an impressive vocabulary — but the pacing, script, and editing all prove that there are some very capable people behind the camera. Karen Gillan is a strong female lead, and her chemistry with John Cho is spot on. The dynamic is convivial, but you can see the hints of an underlying romance there. Selfie will inevitably descend into some “will they, won’t they?” romance before long. How they handle that will determine the longevity of the show as a whole. The premise itself will box them into some time restrictions, but I’m confident that Selfie will grow beyond those limits in the same way that New Girl did to become a fan favorite for young adults.

For now, know that ABC’s Selfie is bound to be one of those surprising sleeper hits that is most definitely worth your time.

You can stream the pilot episode of “Selfie” on Hulu right now, but the show will premiere on September 30, 2014.

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