ABC made “Selfie” available on Hulu in advance of its Sept. 30 television premiere in an attempt to court a demographic of young adult cord-cutters. So why did it make the characters in its reimagining of “My Fair Lady” so unlikable?
Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a pharmaceutical sales rep whose personal style appears to be based on that of Rebecca Bloomwood, the main character from “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” When we’re introduced to her, she’s stomping her way through an airplane to a first-class seat with a bright red Céline tote on her arm and Christian Louboutin booties on her feet. She is simultaneously the epitome of everything we’ve been trained to expect and come to abhor about millennials: vapid and utterly solipsistic, while also totally anachronistic.
Eliza’s also maxed out her credit cards to buy these status items — like a Carrie Bradshaw who happened to be born in 1990 — though that’s not actually something millennials generally do. In reality, they will take a lower-paying job they love over a higher-paying boring one, and they’re more likely to shop at Zara or H&M than buy overpriced items they’re told they should covet, and they’re worried about looming student loan debt. According to the New York Times, millennials are actually quite communal, not obsessed with themselves.
We’re supposed to hate Eliza — she has all the self-awareness of a Mr. Potato Head doll and, despite amassing 263,000 social media followers, no real friends. But the plot device installed to make her sympathetic— getting covered in her own vomit after learning that her boyfriend, whom she works with, is married — isn’t effective. It feels like an appropriate comeuppance, and the viewer is left wondering why Eliza didn’t have any spare clothes in her two hulking carry-on bags.
Eliza’s nemesis-turned-makeover pal, Bryn, is a clear Zooey Deschanel knockoff who comes complete with Deschanel’s big eyes, dark hair and trademark twee outfits. She’s also in a book club with a set of equally twee Pinterest/Instagram bots whose “individuality” makes them all look the same. One even has a ukulele that is later used for an a cappella version of “Bad Romance.” They are just as insufferable and clueless as Eliza, just in a different way — none of them know the correct pronunciation of Erica Jong’s name.
John Cho is Henry Higgins, the non-threatening Asian man with zero sexuality who works with Eliza and agrees to “fix” her and turn her into a sparkling example of adult womanhood. “Selfie” is supposed to take “My Fair Lady” and pivot it just enough to make it palatable for a young and socially conscious audience that would find the classism inherent in its source material reprehensible. Rather than give Eliza the American equivalent of a cockney accent, creator Emily Kapnek (“Suburgatory”) makes her an oblivious narcissist dripping with unexamined privilege. Still, Eliza barely speaks English. This is how she greets Charmonique Whitaker, the heavyset black receptionist with a terrible wig, at her job: “BF BS. Got played like Flappy Bird. Mortified.com.” This is followed by more cringe-inducing phraseology such as “make like Elsa and let it go” and “the wedding gave me feels.” (Who speaks this way? And how are they employed?)
This sets up the show to turn Charmonique into a Super Trope amalgam of Magical Negro and Black Best Friend. The justification for Charmonique’s existence is that Eliza can realize what a horrible person she is and change accordingly, thus allowing her to blossom into the sort of woman Henry would find attractive. In one scene, Henry and Eliza are talking about Charmonique as though she’s not seated directly in front of them, and Charmonique gets drafted into a lesson meant to teach Eliza the basic human function of listening to and interacting with others.
Evidently, Eliza missed nursery school.
When the book club comes over to prepare Eliza to attend a wedding with Henry — their boss’s daughter is getting married — Eliza answers the door (this time in a Céline shirt) with a flourish clearly intended to mock Jess, Deschanel’s character from “New Girl.”
It’s curious that “Selfie” would go to such great lengths to belittle Deschanel in a show that’s trying so hard to speak to millennials. For starters, “New Girl” is a hit among the demo “Selfie” is courting and recently, the critic who coined the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope implored people to stop using it because of its inherent sexism. For a show that’s trying so hard to be “with it,” it’s missing some key details.
What’s especially puzzling is that there are plenty of examples of the clueless, self-absorbed millennial that are well-executed. In fact, Hayley Marie Norman, who appears as the daughter of Henry and Eliza’s boss, plays one on the Black and Sexy TV show “Hello Cupid.” So did Krysten Ritter on “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23.”
“You think that you’re getting it but you are in fact missing it,” Henry says to Eliza when she tries to take a selfie in the rain. It could just as easily serve as the final network note to this pilot — millennials aren’t nearly as dumb as Eliza’s depiction would have you believe.
You can watch the pilot for “Selfie” below.