The first episode of Selfie, ABC’s new comedy is available online, giving millennials the opportunity to see just what middle-aged network executives think of them—the vacuous and annoying stars of terrible television.
Selfie is loosely based on My Fair Lady. We know this because cunningly, the main characters are named Eliza Dooley (Doctor Who's Karen Gillan)—a social-media-obsessed fright—and Henry Higenbottam (Harold & Kumar's John Cho). But was the original Eliza ever this annoying? Would she have walked through a packed plane shouting “got the upgrade, ladies … don’t be jelly” and lacking so much self-awareness to boast of being “#instafamous”? Of course not—she was rough as old boots, but she was never as unlikeable as this.
You may well say, though, that those who tune in to ABC on Tuesdays at 8pm won’t know or even care about the original, an assertion confirmed by their viewership, evidence that they don’t possess any viable, enriching distraction: a computer, a book, a ball.
But this isn’t about whether the show is an accurate adaptation. Of course it isn’t—although Gillan’s battle with an American accent unintentionally recalls Audrey Hepburn’s insulting attempted cockney twang. But in the transition, the heart of the set-up, our empathy for Eliza as she is socially engineered from the class in which she was born, is replaced by hatred for a character who requires lessons on how to be nice.
In future episodes there will no doubt be redemption, and, it can be confidently assumed, a relationship with her mentor. It is inevitable that she will develop as a person, drop the selfies and finally understand that “being friended is not the same thing as having friends.” It is worrying, however, to think that we should be expected to want to follow this frightful shell of a person on her journey.
But what is even more worrying is that someone at ABC thinks that the modern equivalent of a good-natured, poor, Covent Garden flower vendor is an ignorant, friendless bore who decides she needs a revised self-image. Eliza Doolittle required a veneer of gentility and respectability so as to promote her inherent wholesomeness; Eliza Dooley needs a professional image “rebrand” to obscure her worthlessness.
Screengrab via ABC