Fall Pilot Review: SELFIE

     September 30, 2014

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Based on Pygmalion and My Fair LadySelfie follows Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) as she comes to learn that there is more to life than social media.  Helping her along on her journey of self discovery and manners is Henry Higenbottam (John Cho), who works with Eliza, and who is a master of rebranding (she, naturally, works in sales).  The series is created by Suburgatory‘s Emily Kapnek, who gives it her trademark fast-paced style.  Hit the jump to see if this ABC comedy deserves a spot on your DVR.

selfie-season-1-episode-1-john-cho-karen-gillanSelfie has been heavily promoted by ABC for months, replaying the same unfunny clips over and over again.  Early word for those who had seen the pilot was that there was very little to redeem it.

But then there’s Karen Gillan and John Cho.  I truly could not imagine any two other actors who would have convinced me to sit through Selfie‘s pilot.  It wasn’t that it was terrible, though; there were far too many try-hard moments that could use toning down, but there were also several genuinely funny zingers.

Cho and Gillan (particularly Gillan) give their roles everything they have.  And while the supporting cast are largely caricatures at best (and gratingly unfunny send-ups at worst), Gillan shines as the self-obsessed Eliza, playing her part with exceptional deadpan, until her eyes well up with tears or she flashes a big smile; her charisma is through the roof.  As for Cho, having an Asian man play both the lead and potential love interest is a huge moment for TV, and Cho deserves that moment.  The problem is, Selfie‘s material just isn’t there yet.

Like the dearly departed (and also poorly named) ABC comedies Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B– In Apt 23Selfie is fast-paced and chock-full of pop culture references.  There are so many throwaway jokes that a great many get lost in Gillan’s dulcet tones, particularly when Eliza is muttering asides to herself (that’s not a criticism, for what it’s worth).  But any positives are leveled out by nonsensical moments (as if any airplane passengers ever would laugh at bags of vomit exploding on the plane), and jokes about hipsters that are too easy and yet, somehow, not funny at all.

selfie-pilot-karen-gillan-john-choBut Selfie‘s main issue is that there’s not a sense of where it is headed.  Usually for a comedy, that’s not a problem — you just ride the wave.  But for Selfie‘s particular conceit, viewers need a reason to come back, and its pilot seems particularly poorly positioned to suggest what the show will look like week to week.  Will Eliza never learn anything?  Or will she seek to help out other social media addicts?  Will we ever see her actually work at her job?

Comedy pilots are so tough to use as a guidepost for how a series will turn out, and though Selfie plays out like a mini-movie (there are truly three full acts in 22 minutes, with a clear resolution at the end), it doesn’t leave any room for forward motion.  Even its advice that “being friended isn’t the same as having friends” feels dated.  257 Slate articles have told us the same thing, so what?  What’s next?

The chemistry between Cho and Gillan, and Gillan’s charm in particular make Selfie worth considering, at least two or three episodes down the road.  There’s a very good chance, too, that in several weeks it could turn into the next New Girl, or one those misunderstood ABC comedies of years past.  But bad press and poorly conveyed promos may turn too many viewers off before it has the chance to find itself (and hopefully, like Eliza herself, rebrand).

Premiere Date: Tuesday, September 30th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Pilot Rating: Fair

Chance of Cancellation: Moderate to High

DVR Priority: It could get better later … keep an eye on it.

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Selfie Series Premiere Review

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