August 16, 2014

THE SKED Fall Pilot Report: ABC’s “Selfie”


SELFIE:  Tuesday 8PM on ABC starting September 30 – If Nothing Else Is On…

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

PLAYERS:  George Bernard Shaw.  (And Lerner & Loewe, whose My Fair Lady made Pygmalion into a fixture of pop culture.)  Series creator Emily Kapnek, of Suburgatory.  Stars John Cho and Karen Gillan.  Pilot director Julie Anne Robinson.  Warner Bros. Television.

PREMISE:  Eliza Doolittle is a Cockney flower-seller, determined to better her place in life, who… sorry.  Eliza Dooley (Gillan) works in the sales department of a pharmaceutical company, and her utter narcissism and self-obsession is reflected in her compulsive engagement with social media, where she had many, many “friends”–none of whom, she discovers, are the real thing, after she humiliates herself in public.  In a quest to become a more well-adjusted member of society, or at least a functioning human being, she seeks the help of Henry Higgenbottam (Cho), a haughty marketing genius who decides that with the proper training and dedication, he can transform this guttersnipe not just into a lady, but one who can be pass muster at a royal ball!  OK, wrong era.  But you get the idea.  Meanwhile, she’ll transform him too, into less of a downbeat, calculating automaton.

PILOT:  Shaw regarded himself as someone whose eyes were firmly fixed on the future, but he could hardly have imagined the world of Twitter and Instagram.  (Although he might have been a very entertaining blogger.)  Emily Kapnek, as she would no doubt quickly admit, is far from his equal as a dramatist, but she does an efficient job of downsizing his comedy of ideas into a sitcom, while of course softening it even more than My Fair Lady did.  This Pygmalion and Galatea are already rom-comming by the end of the pilot; perhaps every generation gets the Pygmalion it deserves.

The Selfie pilot isn’t as immediately engaging as the one for Kapnek’s Suburgatory.  The heavy use of narration that was so effective on the earlier show is mostly unnecessary here–Eliza’s persona is very clear from the start–and neither Eliza nor Henry are particularly easy to embrace.  Kapnek is a skilled TV comedy writer, though, and she manages to give the characters a bit more dimension than the high-concept requires.  Gillan has a role that in most hands would have been merely annoying and obnoxious, but she keeps Eliza’s tendency to go over the top under control, while Cho is likable in a part that could edge to the prissy.  That’s not to say that Kapnek avoids being obvious in her humor (we’re a little past the point where someone using a cell phone in a church, forgetting it isn’t in silent mode, is much of a joke), but the show has a moderate amount of substance to go along with those gags.

A weakness of the Selfie pilot is that Kapnek does little with the supporting characters (the only person other than Gillan and Cho showcased is Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the office receptionist).  Also, it’s a concern that Kapnek proved herself unable to stay the course on Suburgatory, which had a bright first season and rarely recaptured that level of quality again.  Still, for an idea that sounded doomed on conception, Selfie is somewhat better than might have been expected.

PROSPECTS:  Not great.  Although CBS and FOX are after other audiences with NCIS and Utopia, Selfie will have to face off against The Voice on NBC, a timeslot so tough that it chased the far more promotable Agents of SHIELD to 9PM this season.  Also, Selfie is paired with the less likable Manhattan Love Story.  But if Eliza Doolittle could convince Zoltan Karpathy that she was a Hungarian princess, anything is possible.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."