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In trying to chronicle the times we were living in nine years ago, a new sitcom dealing with the impact of social media was released on ABC. Selfie, from Suburgatory creator Emily Kapnek, put Karen Gillan’s Eliza Dooley, a social media addict, in the way of John Cho’s Henry Higgs, in an attempt to shake off her superficiality and make her a better person. Selfie was many things: a satire, a journey of self-discovery, an adaptation of My Fair Lady/Pygmalion, a workplace sitcom, a romantic comedy, and – probably its dooming quality – ahead of its time. The show’s broadcast was abruptly cut short because of dwindling ratings. The remaining episodes were dumped on Hulu and the 13-episode first season turned out to be the complete series run. It joins the one-season (or two) cancelled-too-soon roster where we can find comedy gems like Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, Outsourced, and Wonderfalls. Here’s a bit of what made Selfie so special for the app generation.
‘Selfie’ Is A Self-Discovery Journey That Satirizes Social Media
In Selfie, shallow and narcissistic Eliza struggles with social interactions that go beyond her phone screen. After a very public incident – where she drops her vomit through a plane after realizing her lover is married – she seeks out perfectly-kept Henry’s help to clean up her image. Both work at KinderKare Pharmaceuticals, where she’s a sales representative, and he’s in charge of marketing. Since he fixed the perception of a nasal spray that caused hallucinations, he should be able to fix Eliza as well, right? Well, it proves to be a challenge. Eliza finds herself constantly relapsing into her banal ways and meaningless relationship with Freddy (Giacomo Gianniotti), the office hottie. But Henry’s determination is such, that she starts changing and, eventually, caring. She becomes friends with no-nonsense receptionist Charmonique (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and quirky neighbor Bryn (Allyn Rachel), who teach her even more lessons in parenthood and female solidarity.
Eliza, in turn, also has things to teach Henry. Since it’s impossible to live in this age without social media, she ropes him into Facebook. But going a bit deeper, she also pushes him to let go of his stiffness and stubbornness. Sam (David Harewood), their boss, notices how he’s a more approachable and relaxed person when Eliza is with him, calling her a “perfect plus one”, to which Henry replies she isn’t a plus one, but a VIP. By interacting closely, they slowly shake off the misconceptions they have of each other, seeing the person underneath it all. Eliza realizes this before Henry and is a bit blunt when discussing the topic – she tries to seduce him by getting naked in an elevator. Since Henry had already started dating Julia (Allison Miller) and believed Eliza was having a crisis, he avoided the situation altogether, provoking Eliza’s rage.
‘Selfie’s Cancellation Had A Strong Fan Response
Selfie was pulled out of ABC’s programming after the seventh episode. The remaining episodes started a weekly release shortly after on Hulu. The fate of Eliza and Henry was finally revealed, and it was clearly just the start. After trying to avoid Henry, following their elevator debacle, they admit they can’t go on without each other’s help. He helps her face her childhood bully Corynn (Julianna Guill) resulting in Eliza embracing her true awkward identity, acknowledging she can mesh it with her present self. Eliza makes Henry try being a true skateboarder, after pretending all his life he liked it. He breaks his arm but learns to do things without fear. A heartwarming montage shows him concluding he’s attracted to Eliza, but he decides to move forward only when the time is right.
Selfie was initially met with a lukewarm critical response, highlighting the banality of its plot. But this was a comedy that needed time to mature and evolve to get the love, and so it did. Not only did the inevitable #SaveSelfie campaign trended on Twitter after the cancellation, but also a #DontCancelSelfie that started in Russia. A change.org petition followed, which raised 27,000 signatures. Since Henry donated to UNICEF, a campaign to raise money for the humanitarian agency was created, reaching its $1,000 goal. Guy Aoki, from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, got involved, given the relevance of Cho as a leading man in a romantic comedy. He guided fans into calling other networks, so it could be shopped around, but ultimately that didn’t succeed. To this day, the former cast of Selfie is still asked about the show.
The Cast of ‘Selfie’ Shines in and Out of the Show
Through Eliza, Gillan not only portrayed a flawed woman but also explored her background and the psychological motivations that made her what she is. Her conflicts with her sister Bethany (Stephanie Koenig) and former bully Corynn are a big part of what made her focus on the exterior above anything else. Gillan demonstrates she’s not only an action queen, she’s also an empathetic comedy queen. Since she had just filmed Guardians of the Galaxy, for which she shaved her head, she had to wear a wig. Plus, since she’s Scottish, she had to use an American accent, and she’s so good at it.
Selfie had an extremely talented cast under its wing. After the cancellation, Gillan went on to continue portraying Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cho had Star Trek Beyond on the horizon and then starred in The Exorcist Season 2, with his most recent role being “funcle” Ulysses in the second season of The Afterparty. Harewood moved on to the Arrowverse, suiting up as Martian Manhunter in Supergirl. Gianniotti entered the large Grey Sloan Memorial staff as Doctor Andrew DeLuca starting in Season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy. More recently, Randolph became a part of Only Murders in the Building portraying Detective Williams, an empathetic ally of the starring trio. She also appeared in The Idol as one of the few likeable characters of a controversial show, Destiny.
Selfie is a show you now go into knowing the risk that represents loving it and not having more of it. It’s a conscious decision to watch quality TV without any closure or follow-up. Eliza and Henry’s story had still much to deliver. Plus, if given the opportunity, it would’ve benefitted from Instagram’s evolution, from having multiple photos per post, then stories, then reels, and making Eliza go nuts with those options about how to let everyone know about her life. It could’ve also added complexity to the mix by incorporating Snapchat, TikTok, and the Twitter-to-X conversion and tackled it with the already inherent humor of these business decisions. For now, it will remain as a single-season gem – a selfie of 2010s social media with heart.