Selfie, Or What We Want From Zeitgeisty Sitcoms

The Cho Who Waited


Several real people I know and are not made up and just go with it man c’mon have recently said derisive things about ABC’s upcoming sitcom Selfie. Mostly their issues center on the commercials looking terribleHowever,  if we judged everything by commercials, the world would be an even more terrible place deserving an even more cataclysmic doom than it already has in the pipes. Also, I think these concerns are overblown simply because Karen Gillan and John Cho’s faces are plastered on many signs and in many subway stations. Other new sitcoms are not receiving their fair share of ire because they are not omnipresent. Please look past the ubiquity. Selfie is a great fun show. Or it could be. I have only seen one episode. And it was fine!

Selfie is about Karen Gillan’s Eliza Dooley rehabilitating her image with the help of John Cho’s Henry Higenbottam. Her meltdown on a plane circulates through the very internets that made her a person of note. Television has wanted to take on the brazen extraversion of the internet for some time. I say this because I have seen these desires first hand.

My job as a customer service person means that I receive a lot of general company inquires. Two years ago, I received an email from a developing sitcom’s wardrobe department asking for clearance of our t-shirts to appear on the show. This might be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me  at work that doesn’t involve packing boxes addressed to people from podcasts.

We easily gave clearance, so the wardrobe head sent over the description of the show. It was called Friend Me. It was about two guys moving to LA to work for a real social deals website (that is not actually located in LA and is actually located in a city that would probably be very upset for being compared with LA [Not as upset as that city usually is for being compared to New York]). McLovin from Superbad was in it. One of the roommates wanted to meet people in real life (IRL, as the kids say) but was having difficulty, while his roommate spent much of his time online and was actually getting drenched with friendship. It seemingly wanted to do for social media what The Big Bang Theory did for nerds and Wil Wheaton.

Selfie accesses the social media aspects differently from the more usual route of Friend Me. Obviously, it is also a much more technically savvy adaptation of She’s All That than Pygmalion was. Instead of Freddie Prinze Jr. making a bet with the late Paul Walker to change Rachel Leigh Cook, Gillan’s Eliza searches out the brand wizard Henry to salvage her image after romantic rejection leads an encounter with vomit which then leads to making a dress out of the plane’s curtains. Through helping Eliza, the audience comes to realize that Henry also has some things he needs to address, less he end up a joyless and lonely shell of a man, shaking his fist at what the world has become while lacking the common and supernatural intimacies that make this life bearable.

The pilot moves quickly, going from humiliation to negotiation to first test to foible to reconciliation. This first episode rightly focuses on Cho and Gillan’, but we meet the other characters who populate their world. Notably, there is the head of the company Eliza and Henry both work for. There is the administrator Eliza at first ignores but eventually realizes is a person just like you and me. There is the hipster neighbor declaring, a character whose presence declares war on Zooey Deschanel, Pinterest, knitting, and a bunch of other things that could theoretically thrive through phones in the very way Eliza is chastised, but without the consequences.

In this episode, it seems like social media exists only for Eliza. Instagram and Twitter and Facebook are mentioned not as applications in daily use, but as things to capture Eliza.  For their first lesson of sorts, Henry and Eliza go to a wedding. Eliza commits a faux pas by using her phone during the ceremony. Given how we document weddings these days, it seems like a strange example with which to start the show. Log onto Facebook right now. You are in wedding ceremony pictures from weddings you do not remember going to. That is how standard these things are. Henry’s error is a history of attending weddings alone, a constant reminder of loneliness and sadness and death and despair. Not the kind of cool guy you want at weddings! Eliza and Henry can obviously help each other with their flaws, but the balance at the start of the episode leans more on G.B. Shaw’s earlier version of She’s All That rather than the version that actually went to screen. At this point, Henry and Eliza are working on Eliza. Henry just needs to never let the hackey sack drop.

Much of my faith in Selfie is not based on the pilot itself. That faith comes from the show’s capable handling by Emily Kapnek, formerly of Suburgatory. The much-missed show was able to take the easy shots at the obviously funny parts of upper-class suburbia, while skewering the uprooted city-dwelling main characters. Kapnek also can work in difficult emotions like abandonment and shame will still making a show wildly funny. She just makes great television.

There are may other romcom sitcoms coming out this fall. Aside from Selfie, I am interested in Marry Me starring Casey Wilson and Ken Marino and created by Happy Endings‘ runner David Capse. I have not seen much more than the available previews on NBC’s site and Hulu, but it looks fine. Mostly, Wilson and Marino look great. Also in the arena, ABC and NBC have Manhattan Love Story and A To Z, respectively. Both have interesting actors (Annaleigh Tipton in MLS, Cristin Milloti and Ben Feldman in A To Z) but they seem so much more obvious than Selfie. I am forgiving the obviousness of a sitcom called Marry Me, but it is giving me wonderful Happy Endings flashbacks, so LAY OFF. Eventually, Selfie  could feature Eliza and Henry’s romance, but the show at least considers that some other parts are necessary for a show that interests people. What if You’ve Got Mail was just a story about two people emailing each other with no star-crossed corporate book store takeover subplot?

Selfie has a shitty name and tons of posters, but I don’t think that’s reason to dismiss it. If there was a great call by America for sitcom romcoms, Selfie did the most so far to stretch that beyond the genre’s most obvious components. Who even cares about subway posters? In three weeks they will all be for Mockingjay Pt. 1 and you will miss John Cho and Karen Gillan staring at you from across the platform.

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