Monday, October 6, 2014

New TV: SELFIE? #fail

I'm trying to wrap my head around the meeting with TV execs where somebody pitched the idea of a new rom-com/sit-com pilot with George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion or its Lerner and Loewe musical progeny My Fair Lady as the jumping off point. I mean, why? Because you are so in love with Shaw's basic ideas of class, gender and privilege that you want to recapture it for 2014?

Well, that might be nice. Except for the fact that Selfie, the TV rom-com/sit-com stepchild in question, completely avoids those central issues, turning everything upside-down and missing the Pygmalion boat completely. So, yes, Selfie's creators did call the heroine Eliza Dooley and the hero Henry Higgs instead of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, they did make him sort of arrogant and controlling, and they set her up as someone in dire need of a makeover. But that's it. That's the extent of the Pygmalion influence. Instead of a lower class flower seller, director Julie Anne Robinson and writer Emily Kapnek, who are executive producers as well, have made Eliza a vacuous twit who has made herself a big deal on the internet. She has a gazillion friends and fans on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook and she knows her way around celebrity and fashion. But she is selfish, silly and immature. After video of her barfing on a plane goes viral, she turns to Higgs, a marketing expert, to turn her into someone new. But her makeover involves not passing as an aristocrat by way of learning a new accent or how to hold a spoon, but instead how to interact with real people and not come off as a self-centered, superficial ninnyhammer.

Say what you will, but that is not and never was Eliza Doolittle. When she successfully masqueraded as a lady, it showed the superficiality of aristocratic privilege, that she and her brain and her heart were more than equal with higher born people like Henry Higgins. When this Eliza tries to act like a real human being and not an idiot, she's showing... Absolutely nothing except that people who create their personalities around internet fame probably have feet of clay. Whoopdedoo.

Eliza's lack of appeal has nothing to do with actress Karen Gillan, by the way. Most people know her from her stint as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, where she was a decidedly different person from Eliza Dooley. Gillan has a lot of charm and energy and an acceptable American accent, and she gets a thumbs up from me for showing her versatility.

John Cho, who plays her Henry Higgs, is also charming and talented, and this role is the polar opposite of his Harold from the Harold and Kumar movies, although I suppose it  has some things in common with Sulu, the character he played in recent Star Trek movies. Henry is smart, smug and not thrilled with who Eliza is. I suppose that's okay. But when it comes to chemistry between Henry and Eliza or some reason to root for the two of them to get together -- this is, after all, a rom com -- I'm not seeing it.

A lot of commentators have been complaining about the title, although I don't think it's that awful. I think it's supposed to convey how selfish this Eliza is, which, again, means that her primary characteristic isn't like Eliza Doolittle. Is the idea of a selfie horribly dated or wrong-headed? I don't know. I doubt Selfie will be around long enough to find out. It's not the title or the lack of chemistry, but the unpleasantness at the center of Eliza Dooley's character that dooms Selfie as far as I'm concerned.

No comments:

Post a Comment