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Buzzworthy Show: @ABC's @Selfie starring Karen Gillan and John Cho

The pilot of ABC’s latest comedy shows some real promise, taking aim at society’s crippling addiction to social media, writes Isaac Feldberg

ABC has proven itself capable of delivering creatively strong comedies over the years, though most of them don’t last long (see: the late, lamented Trophy Wife, underrated gem Suburgatory, gone-too-soon Happy Endings, very funny Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, subversive Better Off Ted and, looking back further, cult classic Pushing Daisies). It’s too early to tell whether Selfie, starring Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame, will join that line-up of strongly written, low-rated comedies, but the pilot episode shows some promise, despite a few missteps.

Centring on Eliza Dooley (Gillan), a self-obsessed sales rep in her early twenties, Selfie takes aim at the general public’s crippling addiction to social media. Eliza is “Insta-famous,” having amassed 263 000 followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Out of  those “friends”, though, she can only claim to know a select few. Everything about Eliza is built for public consumption, from her perfect body (openly ogled by the camera) to her vampish lipstick and Louboutins. Caught up in her online identity, Eliza misses a few key details about what’s happening around her. To name one, she’s sleeping with a co-worker named Miller (Blake Hood), but doesn’t pick up on the fact that he’s married. For another, none of her co-workers possesses even a modicum of respect for her – to them, she’s just another attraction of being plugged in, and they’re more than happy to tear her down.

Both of those aspects of Eliza’s life collide on a work flight, when she spots a wedding ring tan line on her hook-up’s finger and becomes ill. Suddenly an object of ridicule, Eliza’s rude awakening continues after the flight, as none of her friends voices concern for her |well-being, and she realises that the social media presence she’s cultivated doesn’t translate into real life. 

Desperate to “rebrand”, Eliza turns to cynical marketing rep Henry (John Cho), who reluctantly takes her under his wing and attempts to teach her the basics of off-screen human interaction. Selfie is being sold as My Fair Lady for the Facebook generation. The irony of its flashy presentation and familiar story isn’t lost on me. Though the writing is sharp and at times almost overly acerbic, Selfie isn’t quite as edgy as it seems to think it is. However, it’s still quite bold and admirable for a primetime network comedy to be so openly critical of the same age demographic it’s trying to attract. Whether viewers will appreciate Selfie’s condemnation of social media or back away in righteous indignation remains to be seen.

In the pilot, Eliza represents self-obsession taken to an extreme, so the audience may enjoy how brutally she gets slammed. On the other hand, many viewers also view their iPhones as extra appendages and work to build online identities with as much diligence as Eliza, so they could feel that Selfie is laughing at them, rather than the other way around.

Viewers who are able to take a bit of ribbing, however, will probably have fun with Selfie’s fine crop of actors and culturally savvy writing. Gillan’s protagonist needs more development, which is sure to come in the next few episodes, but the actress is both charismatic and drop-dead gorgeous – exactly the type of star ABC should want to highlight in its comedies. Doctor Who fans should be warned that pilot-era Eliza is nowhere near as appealing as that show’s Amy Pond. Hopefully, she’ll become someone audiences can root for, but in the premiere, Eliza is more often the butt of the joke than anything else.

Cho, known for playing an equally sharp-tongued and frustrated character in the Harold & Kumar series, is well cast as Henry. Though his scenes in the pilot mostly find him firing back at everything from hashtags to a dearth of human interaction in the workplace (sometimes with excessive acidity), Cho just about pulls Henry back from the verge of turning into a ranting loudmouth. The pilot hints at a backstory for him, but Selfie will probably take its time in exploring how Henry became so jaded. 

In the meantime, Cho’s chemistry with Gillan should be strong enough to keep their dynamic fresh (provided the show doesn’t shoehorn in an unnecessary will-they-won’t-they angle).– wegotthiscovered.com

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