When ABC rolled out the promo for its new comedy Selfie, loosely based off the premise of My Fair Lady, millennials everywhere bemoaned its use of tired accusations that their generation was addicted to their phones, their Instagrams, and their hashtagged—you guessed it—selfies. For this reason, few were surprised when ABC announced the show’s cancellation last week—but for those who watched all seven episodes, the growth and promise Selfie eventually displayed over its short season could very well make the network regret its decision.
The pilot, which barely stretched past the offerings of the two-minute promo video, was disappointing to say the least, and focused entirely too much on being the hip, modern show that revealed just how dependent people in their mid-twenties are on their online popularity. Equally unsettling for many viewers was the show’s predisposition toward a “man fixes up the woman” trope which, admittedly, was a given based on the show’s inspiration. Eliza Dooley, plainly named after My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle, proves from the onset to be a lost cause, and Henry Higgs (inspired by My Fair Lady’s Henry Higgins) seems to be too stoic to be capable of human emotions. Both characters ultimately fall flat in the pilot, leaving much to be desired in Selfie’s attempts to act as some kind of social commentary about social media.
However, there were snippets from the pilot and subsequent episodes that proved that Selfie’s writers had more than just lukewarm jokes about Siri up their sleeves. Karen Gillan’s Eliza is undoubtedly irritating, primarily due to her egotism and her seemingly vapid obsession with the number of followers she has on all social media platforms combined (300,000, according to the most recent episode). John Cho’s portrayal of Henry is both endearing and indicative of his versatility as an actor—particularly for those who are more accustomed to his nutty role in the Harold and Kumar franchise. When he takes a Buzzfeed quiz to see which Game of Thrones character he most resembles—Sansa Stark, much to his approval—and when he accidentally tags himself in a photo of his breastfeeding ex, Selfie proves its ability to be more than just a worn-out lament about “kids these days.” The show’s comedic strong points lie not just in the characters’ line delivery but also in the outrageous use of physical comedy—everything from having Eliza and Charmonique dance in a giant room filled with wigs to covering Henry’s crotch with a giant emoji as he jumps, naked, into a lake full of leeches.
Not only did the show continue to develop its comedic chops, but the character growth beyond the seemingly one-dimensionality in the pilot is promising. When Henry awkwardly admits, “I have grown accustomed to your face,” it is not only a nod to My Fair Lady, but is also delivered so deadpan and convincingly by Cho that it was difficult not to recognize the chemistry that Cho and Gillan have on camera—unconventional as it may be. By episode three, the show no longer seems to boast a plot based on a man fixing up a woman—instead, it shows just how much the two characters can learn from one another, and that both characters have faults that go far beyond the negative effects of social media. The casting of the two characters was pleasantly unexpected—the producers were looking for an actor who was British and gentlemanly, à la My Fair Lady, for Henry. Instead, the show casted an Asian actor in Cho—a move that was both refreshing and uncommon in Hollywood and on TV. To see an underrepresented minority onscreen as a romantic lead without any gross stereotyping in the character is long overdue, and the way Selfie makes Eliza and Henry’s relationship realistic and interesting without tokenizing Cho’s racial background is mature and, sadly, unprecedented.
The biggest critique that circled Selfie’s pilot was that the show was trying too hard prove that social media will be the demise of society, when in reality, the more recent episodes have proven the opposite. It has shown that social media is a great way to connect with others, but intelligently explores its downsides: Eliza takes it too far and ignores her real-life interactions, whereas Henry’s disapproval of social media does not necessarily make his life meaningful or “special” in any way. The show’s missteps, unfortunately, have come not from poor comedic timing or bad writing, but from ineffective marketing on ABC’s part. Without watching the show, it would be impossible to know just how many followers Selfie deserves, and the show’s early demise—just as it was becoming truly funny and charming—is just #unfair.