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Selfie: “A Little Yelp From My Friends”

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I’m enjoying Selfie more and more each week. Last week’s sold me on the show’s technical prowess; “A Little Yelp From My Friends” is a little less well-structured, but it’s also got more a bit more heart, which goes a long way. It’s just enough sugar to counteract the snark that characterizes Selfie. The problem the show’s dealt with so far is trying to find the right balance in short 22-minute bursts, on top of everything else it wants to do. It found a very good way to do that this week, building the trash-can thing from minor plot point to quirky aside to gesture of friendship to, finally, a moment of rare emotional authenticity—in a show that is so stylized that characters frequently speak in rhyming couplets.

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Also, hey, have you noticed everyone rhymes? It’s kind of amazing and simultaneously totally weird—which is basically this whole show, in a nutshell. It’s also a pretty brilliant way to signal to a first-time viewer that what’s happening on this show is sort of outside our generally accepted bounds of sitcom convention, without leaning on the hours of viewing necessary to make inside jokes work. It’s still kind of hard to relax into, but maybe, as with Shakespeare, it’s just about getting used to the conventions of the genre. (I did just compare Selfie to Shakespeare. I’d show myself out, but I’m leaving anyway.)

What I’m noticing in this third episode is how much the feel of this show ends up carrying the narrative momentum. Selfie is fast-paced and vibrant—the colors feel oversaturated, the music is peppy and upbeat, the visuals are dynamic. The experience of watching Selfie is less of watching a sitcom about people who use the Internet and more about entering the Internet; there’s a whole scene in tonight’s episode that is filmed from the point of view of the computer screen. The scene is shot through the lens of Yelp’s design, made a bit translucent. It’s thematically intriguing, yes; it’s also just cool-looking, and a lot of Selfie is built around using coolness as a prop.

One of the major issues I had with the premise was that Selfie was going to use “the appropriate way to act” as a baseline for building stories off of; the whole notion that Henry is teaching Eliza how to be less “butt” didn’t sit right with me. “A Little Yelp From My Friends” neatly deflates that idea, by observing that there isn’t an appropriate way to connect to people, so long as you try in the first place. Small talk and Yelp stalking are both their own kind of deception (as are flash mobs and book clubs and, well, #selfies), and you know what? A lot of dealing with other people is dealing with deception. You have to tell a lot of white lies to get through the day.

What’s different about Henry and Eliza is that they’ve never even bothered with any of that—they skipped the acceptable social norms of casual acquaintance and went straight to #realtalk. Even at the very end of the episode, when they’re unexpectedly sharing a moment of noncombative friendship, neither can stand bullshitting the other for even a moment. “6,” Eliza declares. “4.7,” counters Henry, before adding, “Which rounds up to 5.” They’re still going to be very honest with each other, but look: Being honest is the only way to authentically connect to another person, and hey! That’s the point of the whole show. The point is, selfies and Internet culture aren’t the only way to deflect from the real work of intimacy; and Henry is walking proof of that.

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And that stylized universe they’re living in is in stark contrast, constantly, to the connections our protagonists are attempting to make with each other and the people around them. It all is part of the same coherent whole.

I didn’t really start writing this review expecting to make the rather academic statement that “Selfie is about (in)authenticity,” but that’s what I’m beginning to realize. One of the reasons Selfie is so confusing is because the show, brainchild of Emily Kapnek, seems unsure whether or not it’s invested in the artifice or in the authentic. And that’s because the show is invested in both; Selfie is about the two interacting with each other.

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Anyway, all of this aside, this episode is also very funny. And as I’m getting to know the characters, the show is getting funnier. There are moments tonight that only work because Karen Gillan and John Cho are given enough space to take the scene where they want it to go. With Gillan, it’s that whole cardio class, from the amazing gold-piped leotard to “bitchslap me all over my whole entire face.” With Cho it’s the total aside with the confetti, which on paper isn’t funny at all, and in execution is hilarious. And that’s just them alone; together, as when Eliza is licking her phone before handing it to Henry, they have warm, sassy chemistry, and it is a lot of fun.

This week also lets some of the supporting cast stretch their legs—Charmonique gets a few lines beyond the caricature of a sassy black woman, but she’s still that caricature, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the show develops her. David Harewood’s Sam Saperstein is also back—and speaking uncomfortably close to Henry, as usual. I feel like that may well be a caricature of some kind of gay panic, but really, we don’t yet have enough information.

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Selfie has so much working in its favor right now that when it does manage to hit the story beats, it’s knocking it out of the park. I have high hopes for this show. Go tell your friends.

Stray observations:

  • I confirmed today (accidentally, via Twitter) that the new theme song for the show that plays with the credits is performed by L.A. singer/songwriter Jenny O. Kapnek herself wrote the lyrics, and Jared Faber did the music. The quote in the sub-heading above is from the song, and it seems to fit perfectly with this episode’s subtext about intimacy and connection.
  • The blind guy at the meeting saying “endless night”? I laughed. A lot. I don’t thik it was right to laugh. But, I did.
  • “That pizza is topped with lies.” “But not oregano!!”
  • Karen Gillan’s outfits all follow the same general pattern, have you noticed? Tights, short skirt, tank top, visible bra. Very pretty, very stylish, but even in a creative company, a visible bra is kind of a lot, right? But maybe I’m only noticing because the outfit emphasizes how terrifyingly skinny Gillan is right now, as American Actress Syndrome kicks in. (Sigh.)
  • “The old ball and… penis….”
  • “That old white ladies need to stop co-opting the sista skills in a futile attempt to turn their Caucasian non-bootys into juicy doubles?” “Yes? But also….”
  • The only part of production I’m not loving is the music, which seems to be trying a little too hard. “Orange Sky” by Alexei Murdoch over the tag was very, you know, The O.C. season one.
  • Previously.tv’s Tara Ariano did a Very Important Piece on the wig worn by Gillan in the show, which I forgot to link to last week. An important addendum from this week’s episode is that it looks a lot softer and more natural; Eliza’s even twirling strands of it a lot, which indicates some high-quality wigging.
  • This is my last review of Selfie for The A.V. Club, but never fear, Brandon Nowalk is on duty starting next week. I’m going to be writing over at Salon starting at the end of the month. Thank you all for reading, and make sure to offer Brandon your very best #hashtags next week.
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