NvTV 9: "Un-Tag My Heart" and Selfie's Awareness

I'm not gonna lie to you, folks: this "review all the new sitcoms" project is not going as well as I'd hoped. I've seen six shows (and eight episodes) now, and I can't, in a vacuum, recommend a single one of them. I can't honestly say that I'd be sticking around for any of them if I wasn't doing this (though perhaps my love for John Mulaney and Kate Walsh, respectively, would buy their shows a little more leash)… except for Selfie

It isn't great yet, or even really good, but it's got the strongest core, arguably the highest ceiling, and easily the bravest creative team so far. The second episode, "Un-Tag my Heart," is marked improvement from the first, and more importantly demonstrates an awareness about which parts of the first episode worked, and which didn't.

Let's start with the humor. It's not just that the groaners from the first episode are gone- though there are fewer of them- it's that they're treated as groaners. Eliza shames Henry for an especially bad one early in the episode, and almost every subsequent moment of hackneyed, broad humor is treated with the appropriate scorn or dismissal by one character or another. The terrible jokes haven't been completely replaced by good ones yet, but the ratio's started to shift; both Eliza and Henry get a lot of time to be funny this week, after having to carry the burden of exposition in the first episode, and both hit more than they miss. 

Conceptually, the show remains braver than it needs to be, continuing to shoot for (and mostly hit) a portrayal of Eliza that is both intensely unlikeable and deeply sympathetic; that's incredibly hard to do, and you can count on your fingers the number of shows that have pulled it off with even a single character (about half of them are probably played by Judy Greer, who's excellent Married is perhaps the one show in television history with a cast made up of more of those characters than not). And no, Internet Correction Police, Seinfeld, It's Always Sunny, The League, and Don't Trust the B In Apartment 23 don't count (mostly; there's one or two episodes of B that humanize Chloe enough to pull this off, but it isn't a go-to move); those are shows about unsympathetic yet likable characters, not unlikeable yet sympathetic characters. Anyway, Karen Gillan is walking a fine line and it remains to be seen if the show can keep it up, but it's certainly the most ambitious lead comedy character so far this season, and considering the shows we've got left (David Caspe's Marry Me is a lock to go with the likeably unsympathetic route if anything, while Cristela and The McCarthys appear destined to settle for simply being crap), she's likely to stay that way. 

That's not to say Selfie is by any means a finished product. It still needs to be a whole lot funnier a whole lot more often, and it needs to figure out who it's supporting cast is and what it wants to do with them (this episode did thankfully gave Brian Huskey a little more to do- always a good call), as this week saw only half of last week's supporting cast, with the most notable absence being David Harewood as Henry's boss. We got some new supporting characters in the form of Henry's deer-in-the-headlights assistant (funny) and Eliza's booty call (forgettable, but likely intentionally so), but neither was given a ton to do, and neither was the returning Charmonique… though, worth mentioning, her kid did get the first real laugh out of me by a child actor so far this season, so there's that. Back on topic, this sort of cast shuffling is fine early on, but eventually the show needs to pick a core group of six or so (and the hipster girls only count as one for these purposes) and stick with it long enough for characters besides Eliza and Henry to build some rapport and chemistry. Eliza and Henry are excellent, but they are extremely (by design) guarded around each other; we need to see them away from each other (here in scenes with Henry's ex and Charmonique) in order to more fully appreciate them together (the very strong closing scene between them benefits from the excellent scenes apart that preceded it). The narration also remains both excessive and mostly unhealthy, though the "how many things are like crack" gag was a good one. 

Bottom Line; Selfie is not yet particularly good, but it's anchored by two very strong performances, it's trying something interesting, it's tackling a subject rife with comedic potential that hasn't (surprisingly) been done to death (and while some of the Facebook jokes in this episode flounder, others are very funny), and so far it appears to be written by a staff that's both trying to produce the best show they can and, more importantly, is capable of identifying and correcting things that don't work. Selfie has likely the most potential of all the new comedies this fall, and it may even have the tools to reach it. I can't promise it'll get there, but even if I weren't writing about it, I'd stick around to find out.