The first half of the pilot of Karen Gillan’s new sitcom (debuting tonight on ABC) is bad. It’s exactly as bad as you’d expect from a show that call itself Selfie. Gillan plays a narcissistic, social-media obsessed unbearably obnoxious woman involved with a co-worker who she discovers, on a work flight, is married, prompting her to fill two vomit bags with he rown puke, which later split open all over her clothes.
That’s the kind of show we’re talking here, and if you were to bail five minutes into the pilot after that sequence, no one would blame you, especially since everything that any respectable person would love about Karen Gillan from Doctor Who is completely absent here. She’s unbearable, and has this fake haughty American accent that sounds like a cat drowning in its own blood.
The next few minutes essentially establish the premise: It’s Pygmalion for the social media age. Gillan’s character’s name is Eliza Dooley, and she eventually seeks out Henry Higenbottam (John Cho), a marketing exec in her firm, to help Eliza recover from the barf-bag humiliation by rebranding her. Higenbottam is a stick in the mud who has his own problems with his love life, but reluctantly agrees to help. This entire section is less painful to watch than the first few minutes, but — like the title of the sitcom itself — it’s annoyingly on-the-nose.
But then, about 12 minutes into the pilot, something interesting happens. It stops being terrible. I will not go so far as to say that it’s actually good, but I finally took my mouse cursor off of the close tab button (Selfie is being previewed on Hulu ahead of its fall release). Eliza Dooley began to resemble a real person, and more importantly, began to resemble the Karen Gillan we love, and against all odds, there was actually a bit of chemistry between Gillan and Cho.
Selfie went from completely obnoxious to cute and rom-commy, and if that’s not your thing, then the sitcom is still not going to work for you, but I didn’t hate it by the end of the episode.
Still, the premise could be it’s absolute undoing. If each episode has to reset so that Eliza can learn another lesson about the perils of social media reliance, I would sooner dip my eyeballs in fire ants. But, if Selfie — like so many other good sitcoms over the years — can quickly banish its premise and just focus on the characters, it’s got a shot. After all, it does come from Emily Kapnek, who managed to soften significantly the premise of Suburgatory and turn that into a very nice character-driven sitcom.