By: Dan Tomasik
The source material for Selfie isn’t new; it’s a modern re-interpretation of My Fair Lady, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Henry Higgins, a respectable gentleman, takes on a bet to make Eliza Doolittle, a class-less street urchin, pass for an upper-class lady. He teaches her manners, speech, and proper behavior, turning her into a new person who impresses all of his peers. Eliza learns of the wager and turns on Henry for caring more about surface than true self. How it all plays out varies from interpretation to interpretation, but the idea of turning a tramp into a lady remains the central premise. Said premise remains firmly rooted into the heart of Selfie, but from there it becomes a different animal entirely.
Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a young woman whose life revolves around her internet identity. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, likes, comments, shares; these are the tools by which Eliza measures herself. Henry Higgs (John Cho) is a hugely successful image consultant and marketing guru who feels detached from the rest of his media-obsessed peers. After suffering a huge public (and viral) humiliation, Eliza realizes how alone she really is. She comes to Henry begging him to fix her image. With some reluctance, he takes on the project. Henry believes her image has become so wrapped up in what’s trending that she’s lost sight of what matters. Along the way, Eliza teaches him to stop keeping his distance and experience the world he always scrutinizes from the sidelines.
Selfie makes a lot of interesting deviations from its source material. Eliza is not poor, uneducated, or helpless; in fact, her social media success transfers into substantial real world success at work. She is independent, capable, confident and looked up to by many. Her issues reflect those of our internet-dependent society, an obsession with mass appeal and the neglect of real meaning. Karen Gillan is an unorthodox but wonderful choice for the role. The longtime Doctor Who actress has all the beauty, cuteness, and sex appeal to be a trending personality, but with a self-made quality that makes it clear she wasn’t always this way.
Henry is where the more radical changes have been made. Whereas in all previous adaptations Henry’s driving motivation was self-serving (the admiration of his peers), here he’s taking a stand against a society obsessed with surface image. His behavior towards others may come off as arrogant, but at the heart it’s founded more on frustration than condescension. John Cho is also an unorthodox choice for the role, but proves to be the perfect man for the job. The lessons he’s teaching don’t stem from a specific class, ethnicity, or ideology. They’re all common values, common courtesy, and above all common sense. That’s where this show truly shines, in it’s simplicity. Henry isn’t trying to fix the world, just help one person in it. His lessons focus on taking a step back from all the hustle & bustle of life to decide which parts really matter to you.
That’s a lot of good bits to wrap up in a half-hour cable comedy. It almost makes one wonder if the comedy gets suffocated by all the morality and social commentary? Such is not the case; Selfie is creative, warm, and wall-to-wall funny. Whether one is laughing at Eliza’s adorable reactions or Henry’s dry commentary, every scene is filled with great jokes. The show makes clever (but never mean) comments about popular culture, and given the spontaneous nature of social media, trends, and viral sensations, this show will never want for material.