The first time I watched the pilot of Selfie, ABC’s fantastic one-season Pygmalion-turned-romcom adaptation, I was underwhelmed. I was a fan of Karen Gillan from her stint on Doctor Who, and as an Asian-American I had to show my support for John Cho, and I really wanted to like it. I didn’t though. I guess a lot of people felt the same, and I think people like us are the reason why, despite Selfie’s fantastic cast and adorable concept, Selfie ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.
But for every person who underestimated Selfie, there was another person who really believed in it and stuck with it until the end; it is because of these wise people that I decided to pick Selfie up again, half a year after I dismissed it the first time.
Let me tell you, Selfie is so much better when you’re watching it all at once. Selfie is just good in general. Looking back, I think that the world that existed in 2014 was not ready for Selfie. In many ways, with a few updates (such as the social media platforms that Eliza frequents and the show’s cultural references), Selfie would feel right at home on our TV/phone/laptop screens in 2019. Since Selfie is turning five in August of this year, here’s five reasons why Selfie is really the show of 2019:
1.The “nice comedy” is having its heyday
Last week, I wrote about how “nice comedies”, comedies that involve less mean jokes and revolve more about people becoming good than doing bad, are the ones that are most popular these days. Shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, and Schitt’s Creek are showing us that it’s really fun to just watch people be good.
Instead of being about one character remaking another, Selfie adapted its source material so that the show was a journey of two people, Henry (John Cho) and Eliza (Karen Gillan) becoming better. Eliza drew Henry out of his shell, and with Henry’s help, Eliza learned to be kinder to others and herself. Watching these two flawed people becoming better on Selfie gives you the same warm, fuzzy feeling that 2019’s nice comedies give you today.
Back in 2014, comedies where people were just nice (or trying to be) weren’t so en vogue; then, The Big Bang Theory showed no signs of stopping, and Two and a Half Men was still on the air. Meanwhile, during its 13 episodes, Selfie showed a gigantic, beating heart. Though it would be easy to make fun of the shallow and naive Eliza, Selfie always remained compassionate toward its misguided heroine and the rest of its colorful cast of characters. In a world as tumultuous as ours today, we need compassion in our TV. We need shows like Selfie.
2. People like rom-coms again.
During the early 2010s, rom-coms were as good as dead. A 2013 Hollywood Reporter article literally said “R.I.P. Romantic Comedies”. Sure, studios were still making them, but there are few 2010-2015 rom-coms that have reached classic status the way rom-coms from, say, the 2000s have.
The death of the rom-com made its way out of theatres and onto TV screens, too. Other early 2010s rom-coms such as 2011’s Friends with Benefits and 2014’s A to Z didn’t make it past one season. Additionally, the unsatisfying ending of How I Met Your Mother, one of tv’s most obviously rom-com inspired show, soured many people on the genre just a few months before Selfie premiered. When Selfie first aired, audiences were tired of love stories.
However, in recent months, rom-coms have been going through a resurgence. With the recent successes of Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Set It Up, people are rediscovering their love for love stories. Additionally, the popularity of expectation-defying, offbeat rom-coms such as FX’s You’re The Worst has made it prime time to be a romantic comedy right now.
Selfie has all the makings of a good romantic comedy: lovable leads Henry and Eliza, a will-they-or-won’t-they, playful banter. The pure potential of Henry and Eliza makes it a real bummer that they aren’t gracing our screens right now.
3. ‘Ships like Henry and Eliza are totally in
It’s safe to say that audiences (and TV writers) in the early 2010s were not as woke as they are now. After all, in 2012, we let Gossip Girl’s Chuck and Blair get married after he a) sold her for a hotel and b) tried to assault her when she was going to marry another guy. We can’t blame this on the fact that Gossip Girl had a younger demographic; adults who knew better watched Gossip Girl and supported that toxic relationship too.
These days, however, our culture has shifted, and our tastes for relationships have shifted with it. These days, we are more likely to see TV blogs talking about healthy couples who make each other better like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Jake and Amy and The Good Place’s Chidi and Eleanor.
The current popularity of the Chidi and Eleanor relationship, specifically, makes the fact that Selfie is not currently on the air all the more tragic. Though I doubt that the writers of The Good Place deliberately set out to copy Selfie (or Selfie’s source material), there’s no denying how Chidi and Eleanor have a similar dynamic of Henry and Eliza. Both couples involve a bold girl who wants to be better and a guy who she asks to help her. Both couples involve two people bringing out the best each other and making each other softer. If audiences these days are falling for Chidi and Eleanor, then it’s not a stretch to say that they would fall just as hard for Henry and Eliza, too?
In creating the relationship between Henry and Eliza, Selfie has combined the best of the typical rom-com trope with the best of classic literature. There’s funny banter over Eliza saying “I’m VIP, bitches”, but there’s also Austen-esque lines such as “I have grown accustomed to your face”. There’s Eliza teaching Henry how to use social media, and there’s also Henry riding up to Eliza on a horse. Henry and Eliza not only make each other better, but they’re funny while doing it. Audiences didn’t appreciate them in 2014, but I believe that it would be a different story in 2019.
4. We need Selfie’s empowering messages
Though I could write sonnets about the love between Henry and Eliza, the part about Selfie that has truly stuck with me is the scene at the end of Selfie, in which (spoiler alert!) Eliza, standing in front of the mirror, realizes that her search for a role model has been futile. Instead, she has been her own role model all along. Though she is definitely not perfect, Eliza has become somebody that her younger self would be proud of.
I cannot put into words the way that scenes like this impacted me. As a lonely, anxiety-ridden teen who just wanted to be loved, I could not help but project onto Eliza; when Eliza talked about her younger self, I saw myself. In adult Eliza, I saw everything that I could end up being, good or bad. Seeing Eliza learn to accept herself started me on the path to accepting my own self. If Selfie had stuck around, there is no doubt that it would have continued on its empowering streak.
It is not simply Eliza that taught me how to love myself. Selfie is abound with lessons. However, after its rocky start, Selfie is never truly preachy. Instead, by the end of its thirteen episodes, Selfie learns to straddle the line between entertainment and educational; it teaches us to have “no fear” while also laughing at John Cho’s failure to ride a skateboard.
Though empowering messages are necessary in any year, I think that audiences weren’t ready for Selfie to be a smart, empowering show. These days, however, we readily welcome empowerment from our TV shows, and messages of self-love have become a greater part of our popular culture.
In addition to just being fun, Selfie was smart enough to hold a mirror to us and tell us that we are beautiful, that we deserve love and to love ourselves. In a world that has become increasingly warped by social media expectations, we need a show like Selfie to remind us that beyond our phone cameras, we’re all our own role models.
5. Selfie is just really good
I’m pretty sure a lot of people simply dismissed Selfie in 2014 based on its title. In 2013, the word “selfie” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, resulting in much uproar and confusion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “selfie” was still a sore spot coming into the 2014 season. Selfies were associated with being stupidity and narcissism, and it isn’t a coincidence that this was how Selfie’s heroine Eliza was portrayed at first.
But, people who takes selfies aren’t as dumb as they seem, and Selfie is a much smarter show than it title implies. Though Selfie could have easily taken a “social media bad, unplugging good” approach, it did not limit itself to that box. Selfie delved deeper into social media culture, talking not not simply about the platforms we use, but also who we are beyond the screen. Selfie humanized its main character, and as a result, gave some nuance to the often black-and-white world that exists when we talk about social media.
If social media could be a beast in 2014, then 2019’s social media landscape is the final boss, and I have no doubt that Selfie could conquer it with art and class. Selfie’s nuanced writing in 2014 could translate well into a discussion of 2019’s social media culture. Imagine the fun that Selfie could have as it portrayed the pharmaceuticals company that Eliza and Henry work for trying to grapple with the Instagram “health supplement” craze. Consider a world where Henry forces Eliza to take a page out of Jameela Jamil’s playbook, or where Eliza gets into a Twitter fight with Jameela Jamil. In 2019, Selfie’s playground would be so much bigger, and there would be so much more that Selfie could do. If Selfie was good in 2014, it could be great for 2019.
Even if you ignore all of Selfie’s social media criticism, what you’re left with is just an extremely entertaining show. Karen Gillan and John Cho are never boring, and the supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. Selfie’s gags are funny, the set design is cute, and every character is someone that you want to root for. What more could you want in a TV show?
Every year, really good TV shows get cancelled, and in 2014, one of those shows was Selfie. Though I cannot stand the reboot fever that’s been sweeping through Hollywood, a tiny part of me wishes that Selfie got caught up in the reboot craze, too (If any big Hollywood person is reading this and wants to reboot Selfie, I’m here, and I’m willing to work for one doughnut and one John Cho autograph). We deserve more than one season of Henry and Eliza falling in love and growing with each other. We deserve to see a funny takedown Instagram influencers. We deserve to still have Selfie.