ABC’s ‘Selfie’ Is an Irritating ‘My Fair Lady’ Remake With the Potential for Greatness

“Potential” is a word that’s sure to be thrown around a lot during this upcoming fall TV season, and especially so for ABC’s SelfieSelfie, even if you dislike the title, is a show that you want to like. It’s a very loose, modern retelling of My Fair Lady (or Pygmalion) that revolves around social media. It features the very likable duo of John Cho and Karen Gillan. It’s from Emily Kapnek, who also created As Told by Ginger and Suburgatory. It is a show that you’ll hope will steadily get better because it has the potential to be great, even if the pilot isn’t.

Selfie premieres on ABC on September 30, but the first episode has been made available for preview on Hulu. It is, to put it bluntly, extremely irritating. Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a social media-obsessed ditz with a constant need for attention. After a gross mishap on a plane goes viral, she decides to “rebrand” herself with the help of Henry Higenbottam (John Cho). Eliza is supposed to be annoying and obnoxious. She’s self-centered, rambles about her Instagram, abbreviates words that do not need to be abbreviated, refuses to put down her phone, and never pays attention to anyone around her.

She is not very likable, although Gillan definitely is as an actress (and sells the rapid-fire speech), but that’s not exactly the problem. This isn’t a case of unlikable characters ruining a show — many of the best, and my favorite, characters on television are unlikable, and that’s why I gravitate toward them. Eliza is simply too irritating to watch. It is a chore to listen to her speak. It is impossible to take a line like, “being friended is not the same thing as having friends” seriously, even if that is the point the pilot is trying to make.

A big problem with the pilot is its unnecessary reiteration of generational differences when it comes to technology. Did you know that young people love technology? Did you know that we are constantly writing tweets, checking Instagram, and counting our Facebook likes? Just in case you forgot, Selfie would like to remind you of this over and over. The screen is crowded with texts, hashtags, and Instagram photos. The characters either spell out L-O-L or deride others for feeling the need to use Twitter. There is no in between, though that’s often the case in real life.

But again, there’s potential in Selfie. The pilot is structurally sound, succinctly setting up the narrative and giving us a basic idea of our main characters. Cho and Gillan both do wonders with the material, and watching them bounce off each other is the best part of the show so far, though I’m already wary of the will-they-or-won’t-they storyline that will surely pop up in the future. There are some good jokes that suggest the show has a natural sense of humor buried underneath the lazy references to Flappy Bird and Katy Perry.

It’s always tough to review pilot episodes, and doubly so for comedy pilots, so I want to stress that Selfie, like so many other shows, might well find its footing and go on to be great (if, of course, it doesn’t get canceled first). There is a definite spark and energy to Selfie that keeps me from writing it off based solely on the pilot, but it’s going to have to work much harder to keep anyone’s attention.