ABC’s new fall series Selfie — starring Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan and Star Trek’s John Cho — is a classic tale re-imagined for a new audience. Many of you may be familiar with Audrey Hepburn’s famous turn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, a musical based on the book Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The basic premise of both these tales is of a phonetics professor who practically applies his skills to turn a low-class girl into a lady of refinement, and (spoiler alert) he falls in love with his creation in the process.
Now, Selfie is an updated, modern American tale that adopts the appropriate 21st century technological trappings and speech. Instead of Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, you have Eliza Dooley, a narcissistic, social media-obsessed sales rep who prides herself on having thousands of “friends” and “likes” on her various social networking platforms. Instead of phonetics professor Henry Higgins, you’ve got grumpy Henry Higenbottam who is known at work for being able to rebrand previously unsellable products. The pilot shows Eliza Dooley having an existential crisis when she realizes that Internet friends and real friends are entirely separate things; so, she sees herself in desperate need of reinventing. She convinces reluctant co-worker Henry into working his rebranding mojo on her so she can become a better person who can make real friends and lasting human connections.
Now, Karen Gillan and John Cho (Eliza and Henry respectively) play their roles well and have really great chemistry. That chemistry is in fact what will most likely keep an audience watching since the pilot’s writing wasn’t the strongest. If they ditch the excessive chatspeak and stop randomly speaking in rhyme (is it a nod to the musical? Is the scriptwriter a Dr. Seuss fanatic? We just don’t know), then I can see the show having potential. It’s fast-paced, and the leads are just charming enough to forgive the clunky script. Scottish actress Karen Gillan’s American accent is very impressive, and John Cho’s natural acerbic wit is put to good use.
The biggest issue I had with the pilot was the show’s slut-shamy treatment of Eliza. Her “loose sexual morals” are presented as one of the major problems that needs fixing when we can all agree that her vocabulary — “OMG” and “LOL” (actual quotes) — is the biggest of said problems. I am all for makeover stories when the person is striving to become kinder to their fellow man, but I don’t really appreciate demonizing a woman for being sexual when you can bet that they would not treat a man the same way. If we’re going to go down that road, fine, but then also sneer at the male counterparts who undoubtedly have gotten it on with plenty of women. I can almost guarantee that we will see Henry go through several women in his quest to become a more outgoing, socially-blossomed individual, and I can almost guarantee that he won’t be treated the same way.
Climbing off my soapbox now, I will also say that while the pilot felt rushed, I’m glad we got to see that it wouldn’t be just Henry working to “fix” Eliza’s many faults, but that she would be able to “fix” him as well by helping him loosen up and learn to have fun. One thing I am thrilled about is that this is one of the first times that an Asian male (Cho was born in Seoul) has a) starred in an American television show and b) been cast as a romantic lead. There is such a ridiculous lack of diversity in western media and, even more so, a ridiculous lack of roles for Asian-American folks. Seriously. Think of the last time there was an American show either starring an Asian actor or with an all-Asian cast. It’s 2014, for heaven’s sake! GET IT TOGETHER, AMERICA.
On that diversity note, I also like the fact that the show is written and directed by women since that is also (lamentably) quite rare in the television world. At this point, I really just want this show to succeed on principle. I am excited, though, to see where they could take this story, especially when (again, SPOILERS) we see Eliza and Henry start to fall in love. Because, honestly, at the end of the day, I just want to see Amy Pond and Sulu get together. Indulge me, please, ABC.
Watch the trailer here and catch Selfie’s premiere on September 30th.