Monday, 25 August 2014

ABC's Selfie: Pilot review



Selfie: behind this annoying title referring to the current annoying social media phenomenon lies ABC's new comedy show inspired by George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Pygmalion for the 21st century, if you will. The comedy starts on ABC in a little over a month but the pilot episode has been streamable online for a few days now.

There are many things wrong with the pilot episode of Selfie, thankfully the actors aren't one of them.
Most sci-fi fans will be familiar with Doctor Who/Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillan and Star Trek/Flashforward's John Cho. They are both accomplished actors who are able to use a wide range of means of expression. John has an easier role here, perhaps, as his Henry is more of a "straight man" in the pilot. Karen's role is more challenging: her Eliza is supposed to be the "active comic" here and many times during the episode she is called upon delivering the textspeak and hastagspeak of the social media generation a)  out loud in a rapid fire fashion, and b) in an accent different from her own. She doesn't always succeed, but that is mostly down to the quality of the material she is given. Those who know Karen from Doctor Who won't be surprised to observe that the more serious and dramatic moments in Selfie are those Karen shines in the most.

The quality of the writing then, ranges from very subpar to subpar. It gets better towards the end of the episode when we finally get to see the characters a bit better: Eliza as the perhaps over-sensitive and lonely young woman who tries to numb her "feels" with addiction to social media fame, loud make-up and skimpy (if designer) clothes, and Henry as a marketing genius who nevertheless, is so boring and lacking in "life spark", his last girlfriend had to leave him. The earlier escapades involving vomiting and towel-dress wearing on a plane are forgotten and the viewer can see that Selfie might actually have some potential; at least for those who enjoy romantic comedy.

I couldn't say I particularly enjoyed the pilot. I feel that the send up of the insta-generation just simply wasn't funny enough. I realise there had to be some sort of catalyst for Eliza to want to change herself, to "re-brand", but I wish it could have been done using a "classier" and cleverer brand of humour. Similarly, the moments of self-reflection don't quite go deep enough (though I have to acknowledge it does sort of make sense with this character, as we are only at the beginning of her journey). So far, Selfie hasn't gone beyond "insta-connection = bad, actual contact with real life human beings = good", it's a cliché and it's thin.

Despite that I did make it till the end and I would give it another chance. I want to see if the writers end up finding the right balance between "today's society satire" and a romantic comedy. I do hope they'll get enough time to gradually forget the Pygmalion premise and concentrate on the characters themselves. I want to see Karen and John, both of whom I like, find the right "groove" for their characters and strengthen their chemistry together.

The pilot of Selfie is not great, it's not even good but there is definitely a lot of potential in the material, and if it gets developed better in the future it might just work.