Now that the lovers in Manhattan Love Story are off to the big strip club or purse shop in the sky, respectively, ABC is rewarding us for our taste with two Selfies a week. That adjustment is why “Even Hell Has Two Bars” comes first tonight, even though Terrence announces his promotion at the beginning of the hour and earns it at the end. You can also tell by how much closer Eliza and Henry are at the end of the first episode than they are even during the casual touching exercise in the second. Both episodes flip the script on Henry instructing Eliza, and both are funny, charming pieces of entertainment that play on just how close Eliza and Henry are growing. It’s just that “Even Hell Has Two Bars” is VIP, and the other one is a plus-one.
“Even Hell Has Two Bars” is about a weekend at Sam’s Santa Barbara estate, the aptly named Rancho de Saperstein. Apparently getting to spend a weekend there with the boss means a promotion is around the corner. Naturally Henry has spent three years and 16,000 dollars ensuring he’ll make just the right impression. Except for most of that prep time, he didn’t know to count on Eliza. She’s there as his plus-one. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering she received her own personal invitation, but Sam’s an odd guy, and he does have a reason. He wants her to bring out Henry’s fun side. Still, it’s the rare moment in the episode that clunks. Who else would Henry invite, his friend Philip Roth? Really Eliza getting the invitation sets the agenda for the episode by turning the tables, starting with the argument that Henry underestimates her because she’s not “a dude in a suit.” She lays out a persuasive case that she’s the one who deserves the promotion. A stunned Henry asks, “Did you just say ‘furthermore?’”
“Indeed, henceforth, ergo I should be promoted.” This week, Eliza’s the teacher.
It’s disappointing that after all that, nobody really acknowledges the cruelty of leading her on, promotion-wise, like that. The only other clunky moment is an emotional turn (Henry lashing out at Eliza) that doesn’t quite play because sitcoms don’t have a lot of space to breathe. Everything else at Rancho de Saperstein is a treat. First of all the accommodations are a chip off the old Suburgatory leisure class parody. The Rancho offers an aromatic mammogram, Eliza gets an adult unicorn onesie in her gift basket, and the mattresses are “stuffed with hand-curled koala fleece.” Hand-curled! With nothing on the line, Eliza’s free to soak up the luxury, passing on the scheduled activities for more fun stuff like lounging by the pool. Meanwhile Henry, who has been assigned the Split Bamboo Suite named after Yasmin Saperstein’s favorite kama sutra position, is all business. At breakfast he discusses his plan to replace employees with drones, which eventually leads into his surely hilarious joke, “And you know what they say about corporate tax rates…” The more the group listens to Eliza, the more harried he gets. If they would just follow the itinerary! I’m sure Henry has the perfect joke to tell five minutes into the horseback riding.
Eliza has a smart lesson for him. She just wants him to do one fun thing. And it turns out that’s all Sam wants too, but Henry doesn’t know that yet. Typically, his one fun thing hilariously backfires. As the Sapersteins tells everyone about Yasmin’s conservation project, a pond that hasn’t been touched by man in years, Henry, who had been off-screen, charges through the group with a cannonball. In his defense, why is there a dock? In the next scene Henry goes from commiserating with Eliza to lashing out at her, which is contrived for the sake of a leech joke. But the ending makes it all worth it. After Henry confesses about how sorry he is to have ruined the weekend, Sam finally tells him that the cannonball is exactly what he wanted to see from Henry. (This guy really has a knack for stringing people along.) Henry also sticks up for Eliza, not that she really needs sticking up for. Happy endings all around.
And then Henry spots Eliza walking around trying to find a signal, and he hops on a horse and rides out to her. “I don’t want you to think that I value my job more than I value our friendship. Because, I swear, it’s a tie.” And they say Henry has no game. They flirt, and it’s funny (“I took the least majestic horse in the stable”) and sweet (“I have grown accustomed to your face”). Eventually they shut up and stare at their phones in the dark next to the least majestic horse at Rancho de Saperstein. All these romantic comedies on TV, and are any capable of tension like this?
- Eliza is very productive at work. “Sorry I was just doing Kegels to Riff Raff.”
- “Please stop trying to relate to me by using nightclub jargon.”
- Great Henry wordplay. “I’ll thank you to leave that to me. Thank you.”
- Eliza is a real trendsetter. “It’s like when I got bangs, and then Michelle Obama got bangs. And when I said kids are so fat, and then she jumped on the whole obesity bandwagon. And then when I started wearing all this sleeveless stuff, guess who suddenly had their arms showing all the time. The first lady of non-stop riding my jock.”
- Fun fact: Yasmin was once voted MILF of the Moment by Montecito magazine.
Going from there to “Never Block Cookies” is a bit of a letdown, not least because Eliza and Henry are back to living in a pre-Rancho de Saperstein world. They do have a moment of unbearable romantic tension, but the whole episode feels a little out of place. It’s about Eliza and Charmonique helping Henry get laid, because according to Eliza, he needs to get laid. The equanimity of this plot is a testament to Selfie’s thoughtfulness. It’s condescending to chalk Henry’s attitude up to him not getting any, but in the end, even he agrees. But the episode doesn’t sell him out either. “Just because I’m not sexually promiscuous doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with me. And for the record, I do all right, thank you very much…And off the record, not everybody thinks that casual sex is a cure-all.” And just when you think Selfie talks a good game but trends pretty conservative, Henry gets into a cab with a one-night stand. Well, a potential one-night stand. The episode ends with Charmonique racing off into the night to (cock-)block him.
Eliza and Charmonique make a fun pair, and it’s useful to have someone else to exhibit some of Eliza’s qualities that Henry isn’t so fond of. Charmonique says, “It’s like, I want people to be happy, but on the other hand, no I don’t.” That’s the kind of thing you might expect Eliza to say in the pilot. Giving it to Charmonique is a smart pivot. This subplot is also proof in the pudding. Charmonique is the relationship that Eliza has put the most effort into since asking Henry for help, and now she’s spending time with Charmonique outside of work. They also get to enlist Sam to investigate Henry for his secret dating profiles, including whether he’s disease-free. At the urinal Sam nonchalantly asks Henry, “You ever accidentally download a bad episode of Burn Notice?”
It’s surprising to see Eliza actively fixing Henry up with someone, except it turns out she clearly has feelings for him. First she’s picky about his online matches. Charmonique says one looks nice. Eliza responds, “In a Flowers In The Attic kind of way.” When they finally give Henry his own disgusting episode of The Bachelor, all the contestants are Charmonique and Eliza clones. For one it’s about narcissism—okay, for both—but there’s something else going on with Eliza.
The pivotal scene is at Henry’s place, and it brings it all up to the surface, even though neither Henry or Eliza are willing to admit it to themselves. She shows up outside his door as he’s sitting in his living room reading The Counterlife. “Henry, let me in. I need to talk to you.”
She reacts like he just said a non sequitur. “Open your door.” It doesn’t really translate to print, but it’s so funny that he just sits there across the room and talks through his glass door, and her exasperated delivery is perfect. She’s there to teach him to make excuses for casual touching, which results in him reaching around her waist and pulling her in. That’s not the kind of casual touch anyone does except to dance or kiss. The only reason it works is they both want each other. It’s a terrific prelude to the Rancho, even if it comes after.
Manhattan Love Story was more hacky, or what generous viewers might call conventional, with the jokes. That might be the show early Selfie critics were afraid of. A To Z is light on the comedy and heavy on the romantic tension. What makes Selfie so much better is it’s funny first and romantic second. In my pilot review I was skeptical that Karen Gillan and John Cho had much chemistry. Six episodes in I get excited to see Henry and Eliza have graduated to eating lunch at a table. And it’s not because Selfie pushed their romance on us. It’s because it let them shine as individuals and as a comic duo. Their feelings for each other snuck up on them.
Finally, there’s a subplot about Yasmin Lysistrata-ing (or the 8:00 network version of that anyway) Sam into getting to know the boy who married his daughter. This after a silly scene of Sam singing hello and dancing with everyone who walked through the lobby except for Terrence. “What about ‘Oops I Terrenced Again?’” he suggests.
Sam replies, “Be reasonable.”
But it turns out Terrence doesn’t really get angry. Or he does get angry, but it doesn’t seem to affect him the way it does most people. (Sam: “What if I said you weren’t good enough for my daughter and you never will be?” Terrence: “I would firmly disagree and ask if there’s anything else I can help you with.”) So Sam realizes he’d be perfect for customer service. This is what Selfie is all about. Not changing people into who you think they should be, but seeing their value and helping them cultivate it. That and slipper chocolates.
- I’m with Charmonique. “Now who gives back a cookie unless it’s oatmeal raisin?”
- Eliza: “If you don’t like animals, you’re racist.”
- “I’m not lonely. I have my good friend Philip Roth. Maybe I’m a little lonely.”
- Henry’s password on his work computer is Henry69. “That is in reference to the moon landing!”