Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SELFIE: My review

SELFIE, which premiers tonight is ABC's blatant attempt to attract Millennial viewers and appear “hip” and “with it” or whatever it is that those young people say these days. The end result is they’ve managed to take some decent actors and a good writer and produce one God awful television show. WTF ABC? Sitcom by calculation. Is this comedy? NIMBY.

The premise is a modern day PYGMALION. Or a modern day MY FAIR LADY, which at the time was a modern PYGMALION. In MY FAIR LADY, Eliza Doolittle is this rough-edged Cockney girl. Refined Professor Henry Higgins takes it upon himself to transform her into a lady of culture and grace. But at heart, Eliza is a lovely person. For Crissakes, Julie Andrews played her on Broadway and Audrey Hepburn played her in the movie.  You could almost see the halos.

So imagine if Kathy Griffin played her. Or Chelsea Handler. Or Ann Coulter.

Normally likeable Karen Gillan is (wait for it) "Eliza Dooley," a buffoonish unbelievably self-absorbed bitch/slut. She has a gazillion social media friends but discovers that (OMG #tragic) that she has no real friends. Frowny Face. STBY.   (How did she get all these millions of followers?  #MakesNoSense)

But y’see, she gets sick on an airplane, fills two barf bags, and as she walks up the aisle both bags break at once (#how is that possible? SITD) drenching her in vomit. ROFL. Actually, this is the big joke in the pilot. #moronic #disgusting.

Five minutes of lame ironic lines that are supposed to serve as jokes later, she seeks out John Cho as “Henry Higgs” (#seriously?) to help transform her into someone likeable. He agrees to help because… well, that’s the plot. And what we have is Higgs trying to humanize Eliza and Eliza trying to loosen up Higgs. Will they eventually fall in love? WEG.

Some problems: Eliza’s self-absorption and blatant disregard for others is the only vein of humor in the entire series. And the objective is to rid her of that. And John Cho, who is a very nice actor, is an absolute enemy of comedy. As the expression goes – he couldn’t get a laugh if we were wearing ten chicken suits.

A romantic comedy requires chemistry (RTFM) and there is zero between these two leads. #Awkward.

Everything about this misfire feels manipulative, false, and created in a focus group. Style is valued way more than substance. Who cares if the characters are one-dimensional, the premise is deeply flawed, and the jokes are meh? Text messages pop up on the screen! #CuttingEdge.

I guess if you want to do a comedy today based on people that exist on the planet earth who wrestle with relatable issues in a way that respects the audience and doesn’t pander to them you are SOL. TBTS.

ABC should be ashamed of itSELFIE.

55 comments:

Dan Ball said...

pwnd!

What are Sulu and Amy Pond doing on a non-scifi show anyway? Adding a scifi element to this show would've been awesome. Just make Karen Gillan a robot and this show gets ten times better.

Angry Gamer said...

@Dan "What are Sulu and Amy Pond doing on a non-scifi show anyway?" Best quote of the week!

Loved the integration of hashtags into the text here... you are probably just noodling but it's #funny.

You say the premise is deeply flawaed. Is it because My Fair Lady does not really translate to the 21st century #anachronism #feminism ?

For example I can't really believe anyone today writing "Why can't a woman be more like a man"? #caveman

Friday Question for you: Is there a premise or plot idea that you keep seeing over and over again but for some reason never comes together? #wondering

Carol said...

I saw some kind of extended trailer for this show, and I thought at the time it would probably make a decent movie, but I couldn't see how it can sustain itself as a series. I like Karen Gillian, being a Doctor Who fan and all, but I can't really muster any desire to watch this show.

Scooter Schechtman said...

shorter review:
grmpf, grmpf, Matlock...Maaaaatllllock!

Jace said...

Hey Ken,

Love the way you wrote this column; it captures perfectly how TV execs are trying desperately and failing miserably to connect with the Millennial crowd. You can just smell the calculation and cynicism in their efforts. My only hope is that some of the shows clogging up the networks that are more ironic and quirky than actually funny meet their deaths soon (I'm looking at you, "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project").

While I agree with your review of this show, I have to say I disagree with your thoughts about John Cho. Not only was he the funny MILF guy in the "American Pie" movies, but he was one half of the leads in the hilarious "Harold and Kumar" movie series. I think he can more than hold his own in comedy, when given the right material. It's embarrassing to watch him in this poorly written show; he deserves so much better.

I'm especially disappointed about this show because there are so few Asian-American leads in TV, so if it fails, it'll make execs hesitant to try that arrangement again. But there is the Eddie Huang sitcom coming up, so hopefully that one works out.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Pygmalion is definitely great source material. But when I read about a botch job like this, I once again ask a question that seems so obvious to me:

Why doesn’t someone take the Pygmalion template and just . . . switch the genders? Make the elegant woman the one who coaches the guy?

Whoever writes this can thank me later, upon receiving your Emmy/Oscar.

Xwordz said...

Douglas T - just about every sticom involving a single guy and a single gal fits your description - he usually is just this side of being a caveman, and she smooths his rough edges.

Stoney said...

Got a great idea how to end this show; Higgs shakes hands with somebody named Boson and everything blows up!

At least we've been spared a hip-hop take on "The Rain In Spain"!

Gotta catch the next TCM showing of "My Fair Lady" to see if Robert or Ben say if the musical was the "inspiration" for the series.



Anonymous said...

Even if you believed that My Fair Lady doesn't translate to the 21st Century because of anachronistic feminism - which in my opinion is a stupid premise, but that's your right- Shaw's real point in using the myth for his play was to skewer rigid class system of the English. A sort of a 99%/1% thing. Upper class Higgins/lower class Eliza.
Not much more relevant than that in today's America is there?

Charles H. Bryan said...

I've read a lot of reviews over the years. This one is brilliant. (My all-time favorite is Anthony Lane's New Yorker review of the Matthew Broderick GODZILLA.)

Why didn't ABC just keep producing DON'T TRUST THE B IN APT 23? (I really liked Krysten Ritter and James VanDerBeek in that show.) That's not a Friday question. However, this is:

Are there scripts you can look back at as reflective of particular events or periods in your(and/or David's) life? I read a Rolling Stone article this week where Smokey Robinson described "My Life in 15 Songs" and it made me wonder. (Or, if you'd rather, pick 15 Smokey Robinson songs.)

Mike Barer said...

This has always been ABC's niche. Appealing to the younger audience. If you look back on it's history, with shows like Gidget, American Bandstand, Mod Squad, ABC, more than any other network, has reflected the times.

Hamid said...

And John Cho, who is a very nice actor, is an absolute enemy of comedy.

I beg to differ. The Harold & Kumar films are a joy. And he made me LOL as MILF Guy #2 in American Pie.

Terrence Moss said...

Every season, ABC comes up with the worst-developed sitcom. At least this one didn't get prime real estate after "Modern Family".

And the networks really need to stop chasing Millennials. What a waste of effort. The long-standing reasoning for continuing to do so is very outdated.

Curt Alliaume said...

Hmmm - my wife watched the pilot (which has been available for streaming for awhile) and rather liked it; I watched the last few minutes and thought, "Eh."

I wonder if Karen Gillian is this year's version of Rebel Wilson - ABC signs up an upcoming actress but the vehicle she's given is a total mismatch.

Ckww Radio said...

John Cho maybe should stayed on Sleepy Hollow. Thanks for the Amy Pond reminder Dan Ball. Couldn't place Karen Gillan first, but now those Dr. Who episodes are rushing back.

Shawn said...

I love Karen Gillan. She was great in Doctor Who, funny in NTSF:SD:SUV, and kicked ass in Guardians of the Galaxy, but even she can't make this show good. Selfie in un-watchable.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't he also in FlashForward? That would make him the enemy of Drama too.

MikeN said...

>For example I can't really believe anyone today writing "Why can't a woman be more like a man"?

Ten years ago: "Woman's voices will be heard in full and at last!" Teresa Heinz Kerry

MikeN said...

>Higgs shakes hands with somebody named Boson and everything blows up!

They should have The Big Bang Theory watching the show and saying this.

Paul Ditty said...

I have to say the title of the show was such a turn-off (will we have a series called "Duckface" next season?), that I was surprised to like the last half (post-vomit) of the pilot as much as I did, largely in part due to Karen Gillan, who I found to be quite captivating once she had her "makeover".
I'm proud to say that keeping up with all the acronyms in this review was a challenge for me, and the one that left me stumped was TBTS. When I Googled this, my computer spat out: The Benson Theme Song.
Did I mention that I use a Commodore 64?

Steve B. said...

Ken, here's a Friday question: I saw the pilot, and felt exactly the same way as you did. But you seem to completely dismiss the chances for the show after one episode. We've all seen shows that eventually find their legs and grow greatly over the first season. What is there about a show that will make you give up at the very beginning, and what might give you a little hope to hang in there?

Stoney said...

Well, TCM has "My Fair Lady" scheduled on "The Essentials" in December. If "Selfie" hasn't tanked by then I'll bet Drew Barrymore will make the connection.

Steven J. Siegel said...

I found today's post to be particularly entertaining. Thanks, Ken.

Jay said...

Awesome review! Actually, I had no desire to watch one minute of this pilot, but now, I'm kind of curious to see how bad it is...and it'll also be a learning tool for me on what makes for a bad pilot (I'm a writer, BTW).

Thanks!

jbryant said...

I've really been hoping this is good, despite that big honking negative indicator of a title, because Karen Gillan is a wonderful actress who deserves next-level stardom. I'll probably still check it out, albeit without the scintilla of hope I'd been holding out.

Hamid said...

because Karen Gillan is a wonderful actress

She's also a turbo babe.

http://www.gatefans.net/gforums/attachments/karen-gillan-lingerie-jpg.25049/

Sharon said...

Guess I'm in the minority here, but I liked the pilot. It's not perfect (hated the vomit sequence), but I found the leads charming. Not sure I saw any romantic chemistry between them, but I don't want them to ultimately hook up anyway. At the end of the day, it's a pilot, so it's too soon to tell if the writers will make something of it. I hope so!

Kosmo13 said...


"Why doesn’t someone take the Pygmalion template and just . . . switch the genders? Make the elegant woman the one who coaches the guy?"

Also sounds like the "Don't Tell Her It's Me" movie with Shelley Long.

DJ said...

What are Sulu and Amy Pond doing on a non-scifi show anyway?

Well, as several posters pointed out, John Cho has been in the Harold and Kumar series. As for Karen Gillan, she got her start on The Kevin Bishop Show, a sketch comedy series.

Oliver said...

I liked the pilot. Found it amusing and charming throughout. The sense of heightened reality reminded me of Suburgatory, which was from the same creator. I was pleasantly surprised, as the title and trailer both seemed utterly obnoxious.

Now A to Z, that's a stinker. Typical laugh-free NBC comedy pilot. Likeable leads fighting against an underwritten obnoxious script.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Can't judge a book by its cover and shouldn't judge a show on its pilot. I like John Cho and willing to give him 3-4 episodes to find his character's voice and style. I just watched the pilot of Cheers last night and there were only two really laugh-out loud moments (the Coach character really seemed labored). And how did that show make out? :)

A Friday question: I've been seeing a lot of Will and Grace in re-runs and that show holds up well with a joke a page minimum (granted about half are gay jokes, but still funny). Max Kohan and Mitch Mutchnick, the creators of the show, have had three bites at another series and none lasted more than 9 episodes. Bite Four is coming soon on TBS in a comedy called "Buzzy." My question is how can creators of such a funny show fail miserably in re-creating another one? Did everything just come together between writing and casting for W&G? Were K&M just one-hit wonders (TV version)?

Paul Duca said...

From the promos I thought they had amended the title to SELFIE:MANHATTAN LOVE STORY. Took me a few viewings to realize they were two separate shows.

DBenson said...

There's a BBC video of "Pygmalion" with Lynn Redgrave as Eliza. She plays the flower girl as almost scarily grubby; not a hint of wistful or sweet (although she gets her laughs). After the transformation she's not a Cinderella doll but a handsome British lady -- the "consort battleship" of Higgins's description, which makes her emotional outburst all the more surprising. It wasn't a perfect production, but Redgrave's take worked and effectively removed the "My Fair Lady" overtones.

While the play certainly had a powerful satiric streak, the drama was Higgins transforming Eliza with no real regard for the emotional consequences -- to her or himself.

Haven't seen "Selfie" yet, but it sounds like there's neither a satiric premise or an emotional core. What if Eliza wanted a personality makeover for a political career? Or because of a literal fear of Hell? What if she were an executive who desperately needed to fit among millenials (like a network exec) and assumed it could be taught?

And why does Higgs take the job? There might be something in an Eliza who holds the power from the outset and a Higgs who is forced to teach her what she doesn't want to learn, but it doesn't sound like it's there.

Keystone said...

Thank you for confirming what I already suspected by the title.

D. McEwan said...

Thanks for the warning. Having enjoyed Karen on Doctor Who, I'd been intending to watch, if only to see what happens when a member of the Starship Enterprise crew joins up with a member of the Tardis crew. Recording aborted.

DBenson, I have a DVD of that Lynn Redgrave Pygmalion. While she is orignal and terrific, her Higgins was so devoid of charisma (Not that he's a bad actor, just miscast) that it did not work for me.

I had the absolute joy of seeing Pygmalion on Broadway in 1987 with Peter O'Toole as Higgins, and from the second row. God he was great! (I'd seen Rex Harrison do the musical onstage, but it was so terrible (His Eliza was 18 years old. He was 107. Skin-crawly time, plus he was forgetting his lines, which was incredible) that I and my companions all left at intermission.)

O'Toole was so wonderful, it pretty much didn't matter who his co-stars were, but it was a stellar cast: Amanda Plummer as Eliza (The weakest link, but still pretty damn good), Lionel Jeffries as Pickering, and Sir John Mills as Doolittle. All-in-all, every Pygmalion since has had to compete with my memory of that night.

"Anonymous said...
Wasn't he also in FlashForward? That would make him the enemy of Drama too."


He was, but he wasn't what was wrong with it. (And, I'm sorry, but I was unable to get all the way through the first Harold & Kumar movie, and so never attempted the sequel.

VP81955 said...

A review with plenty of bite; I loved it.

What other '30s romantic comedies could be adapted to a modern-day sitcom? "My Man Godfrey"? "It Happened One Night"? (I'd like a network to summon up the courage to adapt Lubitsch's "Design For Living"; I'm not sure the mass audience today would be comfortable with such sexual tension.)

BTW, most Americans aren't Whovians, and probably think from the advertisements that the gal from the Wendy's commercials now has her own sitcom.

Network Executive #2 said...

This can't be bad! I have all the focus group data that says otherwise!

Jonathan said...

Never felt so old. Had to Google most of the slang in the post. ROFL

Laurie Grad said...

Thanks for saving me from ever having to see this pos

Laurie Grad said...

Thanks for ever having to see this P.O.S.

Pamela Jaye said...

I'm still trying to figure out SITD

IFO

(I feel old)

D. McEwan said...

VP81955, you're underestimating the enormous number of Whovians in America these days. It's become gigantically popular over here. The days when the American response to The Doctor was "Huh?" belongs to the 20th Century.

Hamid said...

Thanks for the warning. Having enjoyed Karen on Doctor Who, I'd been intending to watch, if only to see what happens when a member of the Starship Enterprise crew joins up with a member of the Tardis crew. Recording aborted.

Doug, I usually like and agree with what you say, but on this occasion I must ask: do you really let someone else's opinions determine what you will and won't watch? Surely you should watch Selfie and make up your own mind.

There are lots of films and TV shows I love that either got slated by critics or just never found their audience. I'd much rather watch The Powers That Be over Two And a Half Men any day, or American Gothic over The Vampire Diaries, both short lived shows that didn't get the acclaim or ratings they deserved.

I sometimes agree with Ken and sometimes don't. I agreed 100% with his verdict on Man of Steel but disagreed on Thor 2, though his review of the latter was hilarious. I can't comment on Selfie, as it's not aired in the UK yet.

Barry Traylor said...

"Steve B. said...
Ken, here's a Friday question: I saw the pilot, and felt exactly the same way as you did. But you seem to completely dismiss the chances for the show after one episode. We've all seen shows that eventually find their legs and grow greatly over the first season. What is there about a show that will make you give up at the very beginning, and what might give you a little hope to hang in there?"

considering how the networks the last few years have cancelled shows after as few as 3 episodes "Selfie" may not be around a full season.

The Griffon said...

I agree with most of the commenters here. The premise is horribly limited and the slangs that are such a integral part of the show in real life have a faddish lifetime shorter than a robotic mayfly. I really want to like this show and have it succeed only because of Karen Gillan really. I'm hoping the show runner and execs actually realize how bad the premise is and change it to something actually viable.

The Big Bang Theory morphed from "two awkward guys and a hot girl" to "Friends." I hope for Karen's sake it happens here (doubt it though...)

Brian Phillips said...

Friday Question: Is it true that one of the funniest episodes of Frasier, "Roz and the Schnozz" was merely a rehash of this Batfink episode? :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDlFuFwC2Qw

Stephen Robinson said...

The "give a show with a bad pilot a chance" argument reminds me of the "give a movie with a bad trailer a chance" argument.

I concede that other people might have different experiences but I have never watched a lousy TV pilot or movie trailer where the resulting product was enjoyable for me.

Some of my favorite TV shows, in fact, have had almost textbook perfect pilots: CHEERS, FRASIER, and FRIENDS for example.

SEINFELD's pilot and arguably M*A*S*H's pilot do not fully reflect the shows they became, and perhaps this is the source of the "give a bad pilot/movie trailer a shot" theory. However, if viewed alone without considering their later runs, the SEINFELD/M*A*S*H pilots are enjoyable and would justify my coming back for the next episode. I've argued similarly about the trailers for FIGHT CLUB and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, both were movies I really enjoyed and both had trailers that in retrospect might have sold the films short but were sufficient to engage me.

Pilots are definitely hard and have a lot to achieve but the writers also have the benefit of telling a full story -- essentially, how the characters end up at the premise. CHEERS, FRASIER, and FRIENDS hit them all out of the park: Sam Malone offers Diane Chambers a job, and these two characters have been established well enough to set the onngoing conflict in motion. Frasier Crane moves to Seattle, agrees to let his father move in with him and hires a full-time health care worker for whom his married brother immediately falls. Rachel Green strikes out on her own and moves in with Monica Geller. We even get the start of Ross and Rachel, which would be the major relationship of perhaps the entire series.

Conversely, what does SELFIE achieve?

Stephen Robinson said...

I do, however, believe that MY FAIR LADY translates to the 21st Century. The problem is that, as Ken points out, the creaters *miss* the actual theme. Eliza wants to be a "lady" but she already is at heart. It's just a matter of smoothing out rough edges and mastering the superficial. That is the ironic commentary on the class structure of the period.

Eliza in "Selfie" is *not* a lady at heart or even really a good person. She wants to learn manners and etiquette as a way of "posing" as a good person. There's a *huge* difference between being judged poorly because you don't know which knife to use to eat your salad and people not liking you because you can't bother to learn the name of someone you see every day. The former are artificial rules of society. The latter is basically empathy, which can't be taught.

This could be intentional on the show's part. "Henry Higgs" works in product development/marketing, which is accused of dressing up something rotten and making you think you can't live without it. But that might be giving them too much credit.

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence! I had watched the show, and had commented to a friend that the John Cho was just not funny, and he disagreed, reciting whatever comedy movies been in. I became aware of this guy from "Go On," where I first noticed he sucked the comedy air out of the room.

It's not that he's a bad actor, he's just not talented at comedy. He doesnt bring anything to the table. He will recite the lines as written. If the lines are good, then he's okay. If they're not good, there's nothing he can do to help. If you're looking to make a great comedy, that is STUPID casting, as demonstrated on "Go On," and his current car wreck.

Whatever you want to say about Ken Jeong, the guy can do something with mediocre material in a pinch. He can punch stuff up, and can even improvise his way out of hell, often enough.

If you're an actor on a primetime network comedy, that should be considered the norm, not the exception. There are more talented asian actors out there now than one might suspect. We don't need affirmative action casting anymore.

Casting John Cho as a major factor in your comedy isn't only lazy, it's stupid. He's an adequate actor. Adequate doesn't make it if you're trying to cast a major role in a primetime comedy, and if you hire that way, you deserve what's coming to you.

-Asian Elephant in the Room Noticer

Mary Stella said...

Earlier today my assistant and I talked about Selfie. She likes the show. It could be because she herself is a millennial and big into social media.

Steve said...

Friday question: I assume NBC/Lorne Michaels hires very bright, funny, talented people to write and perform in SNL. And yet I am mystified at how absolutely unfunny and terrible the large majority of skits are. I mean, for most of them, I try to imagine someone pitching the idea and how on earth others could think, "Yeah, that's great."

Now I'm sure it's hard to crank out so many skits week to week. But it can't be THAT hard to come up with at least a few good ones a couple dozen times a year, could it, or to insist on at least some threshold for funny before putting in on air? What's your professional opinion about what SNL may be doing wrong to take all these talented people and have them produce such utter crap? (Assuming you agree with the assessment, which you may not, of course.)

D. McEwan said...

"Hamid said...
Doug, I usually like and agree with what you say, but on this occasion I must ask: do you really let someone else's opinions determine what you will and won't watch? Surely you should watch Selfie and make up your own mind."


I take it case by case, but there are people whose opinions I give more weight to. Reading Ken's column, I'm 100% certain he's right.

One of the things reviews are for are to save us from sitting through crap. Once I saw in a bookstore a display that said: "Never waste time watching a lousy movie again with these movie guides." And there on the display, between two books by Roger Ebert, was my own book, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies. Warning people away from garbage is as much a critical function as alerting people to really good stuff they might otherwise miss.

For the record, I loved The Powers That Be. And you don't have to skip Selfie because I have.

Jeeze, I'd forgotten that Cho was in Go On (A show whose logo made it look like its title was Goon). I saw its entire run. Cho vanished into that - ah - comedy.

D. McEwan said...

Well, it's all academic now anyway. Selfie's premiere ratings tanked. It's fast-trackng into a race with Utopia to be the first cancellation of the season, though Utopia still has the edge, as it was just half-cancelled, having just been axed down from two episodes a week to one.

Dervin Wayside said...

"This has always been ABC's niche."

That's true, but Ken, maybe you know more about this because I only heard about it...

The fallacy that television had to skew young, that older viewers had too much brand loyalty, all of what has affected the thinking of TV decision makers and advertisers for years, is actually based on a 1950's study by a European theorist.

Apparently this study was commissioned and touted by ABC because it would make them a contender against CBS and NBC. But the study was flawed and incorrect.

Nevertheless, like one of those funny old laws municipal laws that are still on the books, like coughing three times on an unpaved crosswalk, the study stuck and has never been challenged. No one has gone back to check, or it isn't in anyone's interest to do so.

Have you ever heard of this?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Oh gee, another network sitcom where the main character is an self-absorbed bitch/slut. Why the hell am I not surprised?