Premiere Date: September 30th 2014
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Starring: Karen Gillan, John Cho, Tim Peper, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Allyn Rachel, David Harewood, Amber Rose, Cam Cadell
What is one of the first things that most of us do when we wake up? I mean seriously… When all is said and done, when we open our eyes after 7-8 hours of sleep, many of us have a shower, eat breakfast, converse and interact with our family, but after that what is the thing that we turn to? That’s right, we turn to social media.
We are glued to the screens, to Facebook, to Twitter, to our emails, our phones, and our connections all around the world; making us think that we are being connected by all the likes, the follows, the comments, the shares, the retweets, and the messages when really we are being presented with the illusion that we are more happy and more important than we really are. Confronting isn’t it, though you may say that I am cynical, as social media, the advent of it and the exponential rise and utilisation of technology in every day life is sure to enhance it, and is inevitable, i.e. you can’t run away from technology, escape it and be a hermit. It’s here to stay.
One TV show, comedy Selfie, created by Emily Kapnek, who also envisioned the comedy Suburgatory, deals with this very prevalent issue, and it is the issue of ‘how much online connection is too much’ that drew me to the story. Loosely based on the stage play My Fair Lady , the single camera sitcom stars Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) as Eliza Dooley, a self-absorbed, egotistical, superficial sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, who’s more obsessed with ‘likes’ than actual meaningful face to face conversations and relationships, and who takes ‘selfies’, and uses social media platforms to be insta-famous (with ‘friends’ in the hundreds of thousands over many platforms). After a harrowing and embarrassing mid-flight airplane incident that goes viral, Eliza is forced to deal with the fact that her ‘friends’ aren’t her friends, and that she needs to rebrand her image so that she can feel loved and have meaningful connections again (not that they were meaningful in the first place but…anyway).
She then hires a marketing guru Henry Higenbottam (John Cho), who takes on the tough assignment of transforming Eliza’s image. He hopes that this will change her behaviours and her outlook on life, at one point wanting to ‘…soften her palate, improve her tastes, expand her market, and I can transform this vapid, despised, social media obsessed, narcissist into a valued and respected woman of stature…’. And this is the premise for the series, which is obviously setting up a romance between Eliza and Henry.
Just today in Australia (yesterday in the U.S.), the pilot episode of this new series, which airs in just over 6 weeks, was available to air in full on the ABC website, so naturally I was intrigued at the concept of the show. I was eager as to how much the show would reveal about how we live in the real world, and how confronting it would be at our own actions. And to tell the truth, sometimes I see quite a lot of Eliza in myself that I’d like to admit. Throughout the entire extra-long 26 minute pilot (comedy shows are usually 20-21 minutes), I was glued from start to finish, I was hooked as Eliza is such a complex character, and Karen’s performance is stellar.
People may have been complaining about her change in accent, even since the trailer debut online, that she should have stuck with her natural Scottish accent. However I find Karen’s American accent compelling and captivating, and something that isn’t awful by any means. Sure it sounds slightly weird, as I often sometimes imagine the voice of Amy Pond to appear in this show; however I am certain that Karen’s charm and relatable persona of Eliza will make viewers, and myself, love her character all the more, simply because of the little details, her qualities that I think society as a whole sees and can see in her.
Henry, played skilfully by John Cho (Go On, Sleepy Hollow), is the down to earth, realist, who takes up Eliza’s cause and bravely tries to teach her etiquette. Acting wise, John’s similar approach in Go On and this new show neatly balances out Karen’s over the top performance (it’s meant to be like that to highlight Eliza’s fears and insecurities); together they complement each other nicely, and it’s clear that the on-screen chemistry is there (which I don’t mind at all)- I knew straight from the moment that Henry took Eliza to a wedding work function of his boss’s daughter, and the looks he was giving her, that the show is shaping up to show Eliza and Henry in the ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship, at least until the mid season break or the season finale.
As far as pivotal scenes go, both of them appear when Eliza is interacting with the receptionist Charmonique. In the first scene, right after Eliza accepts Henry’s challenge, she walks up to the desk, and doesn’t acknowledge Charmonique’s presence and question of “How Are You?”. Instead, she blurts out all of her issues and problems- in text speak of course (like Charmonique is a garbage bin); but then Henry stops her and asks her to properly look her in the eye and have a conversation with her that doesn’t involve her topic of choice, or a phone. Eliza fails miserably. In the second scene, right after the disaster of a wedding work function (I’m not going to spoil you on that part!), Eliza sees Charmonique’s son at the desk, and strikes up a conversation with him surprisingly. It is then, in that moment when she realises that she is not a lost cause, which then she makes amends with Henry at his house, who she upset very much in the wedding. The episode ends there, with the two of them laughing and teasing each other in the rain, and we’re left to wonder how long the premise can last, because once Eliza’s image is rebranded, where can the story go? Perhaps she can help others who used to be like herself; I don’t know.
But what I do know is this- that if the fictitious Eliza Dooley, an over-exaggerated character with the worst of flaws but with the greatest of intentions and with a good heart, can start to be a bit more sociable in her life, and can listen to friendly advice when it is given in a way that she understands, then so can we. We can unplug for a few days, and just live in the moment, instead of trying to take the perfect picture. Like Henry gently tells Eliza at the end of the episode when she tries to take a selfie- we may be getting the picture, but we’re missing out on the bigger picture of life if we are glued to our screens.
Such a confronting and maybe controversial topic (as we’re all prone to want to be liked by our ‘friends’ and be seen to be popular globally and in other ways across the internet), and definitely placed in a weird time-slot, as it is up against The Flash (CW), NCIS (CBS), The Voice (NBC) and Utopia (Fox), it’s unclear as to whether the show will survive or not, given that Eliza’s character is a tad unlikeable at first, and may be irritating at times as she tries to abbreviate most of her words into text and social media speak. However if you love Karen and John’s acting, then this show deserves to be at least looked at. The cast work well together and I think that Selfie has room to grow and maybe be renewed if possible. If not renewed, or at least having a back 9 episodes ordered, then that will be a real shame. Though this is not a perfect pilot by any means (I am sure people may think the show makes some generalisations on social media that just aren’t true!), I will still keep watching, and praying for its success, and it’s unsettling topics like these making us look deeper inside ourselves, that are worth watching and learning from.
Did Selfie leave a lasting impression on you? Which theme in the first episode spoke to you the most? What elements of the show did you enjoy- Karen’s over the top portrayal of Eliza, John’s down to earth assessment of Eliza’s condition, the narration all throughout, or the over usage of text speak? Will you be tuning in, in 7 weeks time when episode 2 airs? Let us know in the comments.
RIYL: Go On, About A Boy, Suburgatory, Seed
Rating: 4/5 (based on 1 episode)
Selfie airs every Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC (from September 30th 2014).