Started watching a soon-to-be-cancelled ABC sitcom, Selfie, mostly because it’s the first show I can think of that’s had an East Asian male lead (except maybe Heroes, but that was part of a pretty big ensemble cast). It’s a strange show: inspired by My Fair Lady in a way that’s more cute and self-referential than it is interesting. It’s about a saleswoman and social media icon named Eliza Dooley (har har) who asks her coworker, a brand management expert named Henry Higgs, to teach her how to be a more genuine person.
There’s a lot to dislike here. For one thing, the show is relentlessly condescending towards its female lead. The messaging is also pretty off, because Henry comes off as humorless and friendless: he’s a person way more in need of advice on how to manage people. Whereas Eliza seems well-connected and friendly and, frankly (except when the show is making a point of how terrible she is), rather well-liked. So basically every interaction between them undermines the premise of the show. And the show’s understanding of social media is a bit bizarre. It’s as if this show can’t even comprehend that when you talk to people online, you’re actually talking to people. Real people. Talking to people online is not too dissimilar from talking to them off-line. It’s just more distanced. I like the way Abigail Nussbaum put it in her summary of the show’s pilot:
Its heroine, Eliza (Karen Gillan) is a phone-obsessed, hashtag-spouting millennial with hundreds of thousands of twitter followers. In the real world, we might conclude from this level of success that Eliza is clever, or funny, or at the very least a very canny self-marketer. In the Selfieuniverse, it means that she is boring, vapid, and completely unfamiliar with normal human interactions and real emotions.
Anyway, on the other hand, I actually like the show. I didn’t see the pilot (which was apparently terrible), but I did watch the latest five episodes. And they were charming. I like Eliza. It’s fun to watch her run around in her ridiculous outfits while she does and says whatever comes to mind (while also being extremely good at her job, the show is careful to note). And Henry is also charmingly befuddled. Despite being a bit grumpy, the show also does him up as an object of desire, which is pretty revolutionary for an East Asian man in American television. I’m actually not sure I’ve ever seen another East Asian man onscreen who wasn’t depicted as utterly sexless. Henry, on the other hand, is always pretty nattily turned out. He’s witty and cultured and lives in a charmingly-appointed apartment. And the friendship between the two leads feels so natural that there’s almost no pushback against it, even when you’d expect that there would be (like in the moments when Henry is extremely condescending to Eliza in a pretty unsavory way).In that, it reminds me of the instantaneous friendship between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock: a strange partnership that became the core of the show.
Anyway, this blog post is just to note that little things like that can make a show. Do these people see warm and genuine? Do they seem like they’re having fun together? If the answer to those two questions is ‘yes’, then a show can push past a lot of negatives.