The Hidden Depths of ABC’s ‘Selfie’

Selfie (ABC) Series Premiere 2014 Pilot (40)

Let’s talk about ABC’s Selfie. The clever comedy is struggling in the ratings despite starring the dynamic duo of John Cho and Karen Gillan as modern age versions of Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, characters made famous by George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” which was later adapted into My Fair Lady. Created by Emily Kapnek, who was responsible for Suburgatory, another ABC comedy that baffled some viewers while delighting others, Selfie is set in a heightened comedic world for Eliza and Henry to exist within, one that favors farce, wordplay and slapstick, but it is also a world where emotional truths can emerge at any moment to sucker punch the viewer. It is hard to imagine a series with a title as trendy as “Selfie” to be capable of stirring up both a satirical and astute look at the current culture, but that is exactly where Selfie excels.

The source material on which Selfie is based revolved around a man teaching a woman to speak, behave and ultimately become a lady fitting the societal definition of the time. Selfie gives the concept an upgrade. Eliza is not simply Henry’s project (although Henry does love a good project), she is his friend and a mentor to him as well. Henry tries to teach Eliza to detach from the digital world of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the myriad other social networks that have become so integral to our daily lives going without them is inconceivable for most people who fall into the millennial generation. While the pilot went too far by having Henry attempt to change the way Eliza dresses so that she could be taken more seriously (for the record, Eliza’s sense of style is amazing), subsequent episodes have seen Henry trying to draw Eliza out so that she can interact with the people who are around her instead of her “followers” who will not even bring her ginger ale when she has had a horrible day.

Eliza’s truth is she has already reinvented herself once. In high school she was awkward and lonely, an easy target for other kids and prone to isolating herself. College and the internet changed all of that. Eliza flipped the script, becoming a beautiful woman who could be a trendsetter, and someone to be admired from afar. Ultimately, she was untouchable in every sense of the word. Her world was self-centric because it made her feel safe and in control. When everything falls apart in the pilot, Eliza realizes she needs to become someone else again– but this time she is on a mission to reveal her true self and become comfortable showing that self to others.

Selfie‘s first four episodes have been full of wonderful, touching moments where Eliza engages with the real world in ways that are frightening to her after years of playing it cool. In the pilot, she confesses to Henry that she checked out at the wedding they attended together because the emotions of the moment were overwhelming her. A more recent episode had Eliza reveal she eats lunch over the trashcan every day because it is easier than trying to find someone to sit with. In Tuesday’s “Nugget of Wisdom,” Eliza discovered every weekend does not have to be a wild night out in order for her to have fun. Overall, Eliza is an incredible character, one who is vibrant, funny and who is quick to call Henry out for his old fashioned ideas, which included slut shaming. Eliza’s persona is larger than life, but her experiences and perspective are based firmly in reality. It is a truth universally acknowledged that for many people making friends at any age can be a struggle. The struggle only becomes more real when anxiety and self confidence issues come into play.

Eliza’s counterpart Henry, who believes he can teach Eliza the ways of classic sophistication, is just as closed off as Eliza is, if not more so, his lack of socialization simply manifests in other ways. The genial facade he presents to the world is just as calculated as Eliza’s online persona. Henry is guarded, a workaholic and has no real friendships in his life either. He is just better at pulling off the day-to-day niceties. However, when he has to follow through on his pleasantries by inviting a co-worker into his home his unease comes pouring out. Eliza’s presence in Henry’s life has been sobering at times, forcing him to realize just how disconnected he is outside of an office setting, but she has also helped him become a more open, honest person.

The friendship they are forging is the most entertaining friendship on television. They represent two generations: one who lives out every moment online and the other who values solitude and work above all, but they, like everyone from the insta-addicts to flip phone users, are navigating the seas of finding friendship and discovering yourself as an adult. Selfie is not damning internet culture, it is using the problematic parts of our culture in general to shine a light on a much bigger issue: more than likes, we need people to make us thrive.

Selfie (ABC) Episode 3 A Little Yelp From My Friends (7)

Selfie airs Tuesdays at 8PM ET/PT on ABC.

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