Selfie , a new ABC sitcom that debuts on September 30th, sounds like a disaster of a show. It stars Doctor Who‘s Karen Gillan as a social media-obsessed pharmaceutical sales rep who realizes that her online life has left her lonely and bereft of friends in reality. John Cho, best known for the Harold and Kumar and Star Trek films, plays a marketing genius at her firm who takes her on as the ultimate turn-around project. Aside from the legions of sci-fi geeks thundering around because the presence of those stars the appeal of this seems limited. It’s a generic romantic comedy set-up that rips off/pays homage to of Pygmalion. Worse, the first trailer made the show look condescending towards the social media generation it aimed to send up.
Sitcom Pilots Are Usually a Hot Mess
It’s time to change those low expectations. Based on the pilot, which is available to watch early on ABC.com, Selfie should be a fantastic confection of a comedy series. Created by Emily Kapnek, who created the dearly-missed Suburgatory, the series hits the ground running and puts itself in immediate consideration for must-watch status. Sitcom pilots are usually a mess because the writers have not yet figured out what tone to run with or how to push at their characters. Even the best comedy shows usually suffer some growing pains in their first few episodes before finding their sea-legs. 30 Rock is probably the best recent example of this, if you want to look back on Netflix. It’s a rarity to see a comedy series come on the air full of the self-assurance and wit that makes the best ones last. Broad City and Review are the only two from this past year that didn’t need a learning curve.
Selfie Knows its Characters and Tone
Selfie flies in the face of this tradition of mediocrity by having perfect control over its tone from the start and making both of its leads dynamic and empathetic in 22 minutes. Much like Suburgatory, it seems like Selfie will create its comedy by creating an arch fictional world and having its characters walk the line between comic stereotype and plausible human being. The best example in the pilot sees Gillan’s Eliza Dooley (yup) audibly play a game on her phone during a wedding. It’s a rote sitcom moment until she reveals that she played the game because of a need to distract herself from fear and self-loathing. She grew up “butts” (aka butt-ugly) and is pathologically afraid that no one will ever truly look at her with love the way the groom is looking at the bride. It’s easier to escape into frivolous behavior and fake online “friends” than it is to feel vulnerable and lonely. John Cho’s Henry Higenbottam (ah, subtlety!) gets some nice dynamism as well. He’s a perfectionist and fixer, at the expense of enjoying life. The pilot climaxes with his admittance of that he’s no fun, so maybe Eliza can do some fixing of him even as he remakes her. Do we know where this is going? Yes. But Selfie‘s pilot has the right mix of style, wit, and character to make it clear that the journey should be worth it. Hard to ask for a better reason to recommend a series.
I agree with your assessment of the pilot episode. It was relieving to see a new comedy on ABC grab my attention so quickly, something that rarely happens. Fun, witty, and a great use of internet graphics makes this an actual “new” comedy to me. I fear, however, that her growth, socially, within one episode, while not extreme, leaves little room for this show’s growth long term. Will the show be fun? Probably, looking at the pilot. Will this plot get stale too quickly? I, for one, hope not.
Lack of forward progress can trip up a series like this. My wife, Becky, has given up on About a Boy because the main character forgets every big moral lesson he learns at the end of each episode. Really, the same problems afflicts Modern Family. However, Emily Kapnek’s previous series, Suburgatory, did some outstanding character work in its three seasons despite a set-up that could have been self-limiting.