In the words of the late, great, and lately un-late Henry Higgs, “Don’t disparage Tuesdays. Tuesdays have done nothing to you.” Except resurrect Selfie. The show won’t air on ABC proper, but instead, the remaining episodes will premiere weekly on Hulu. Which is really bringing out my inner Henry—Selfie is a network comedy, not a streaming show! What’s next, dramas competing as miniseries at the Emmys? It’s a brave new world of nobody watching television, and we’re all going to have to venture out of our comfort zones. Starting with Henry celebrating his own birthday.
“Traumatic Party Stress Disorder” is another Eliza victory episode. Henry’s the one who gives out the assignment—an appropriate birthday gift, meaningful yet modest—but Henry’s the one who gets pushed out of his comfort zone. Eliza’s gift comes in two stages, not counting her first idea: “a Tempur-Pedic pillow or a mug that say, ‘I mean business!’” First she gets Henry Blues Traveler tickets after a very thoughtful Facebook stalking of his entire graduating class until she finds a picture with Henry in the background in a Traveler shirt and nasty rat tail. Then, after his less than enthused reaction, she goes with her original plan to throw Henry a party. It all goes exactly as she predicted it would, just like Edge Of Tomorrow. First Henry hates it and lashes out, and then he realizes how much he enjoys it and apologizes.
In his defense, Eliza gave him two pieces of paper and then foisted a party upon a man Charmonique describes as “the ‘leave the fun party early to avoid traffic’ kind of guy.” Both gifts do seem impersonal at first. But Eliza put some serious thought into them. She shows that she knows what year he graduated, she puts the time into stalking old photos from everyone in his class that she could find, and she took the one picture of, well, with Henry and came up with a gift to stoke his nostalgia. And he loves it! The party is a different story, because Henry never gets a chance to enjoy it or not, but the concert is a surefire way to cheer Henry up. He sings, dances, and plays a mean air harmonica with his new friend and fellow Traveler Wayne. The only disappointing part is Julia, who even insults his new on-brand fedora in the middle of his birthday. Henry barely notices what a bad time she’s having, and good for him. What a drag. Julia, I think I speak for Henry and Wayne and all of the other fellow travelers when I say you’re harshing the mellow.
It’s a tough spot being the temporary significant other standing in the way of a sitcom romance. Julia’s an obstacle, and she’s unfunny in a way that is meant to be and sometimes is humorous, and now she’s bringing Henry down, too. The main problem is she was designed to be something like the female Henry. On The Middle, youngest Heck son Brick is dating the female version of himself, too, and she has the same problem as Julia. They’re characters designed for the joke. They’re a role first, and a living, breathing, even cartoonish person second. That said, Julia’s stand-up shtick isn’t bad, and when she transitions from “Seriously, folks” into actually being serious, it’s impressive how real the “real” Julia feels. It’s just that her birthday kiss inspires basically no feeling, which is all you need to know about how much she’s charmed the audience, which is to say how funny she is.
Freddy doesn’t have that problem. Up until now, he’s been mostly white noise (which is still preferable to Julia’s, what would you call her presence, test of the emergency broadcast system?). But in “Traumatic Party Stress Disorder,” Freddy is funny. “I’m gonna share with you some party wisdom that has been thrice confirmed by my boy Checkers, who’s a bouncer, my old college roommate Peanut, and this dude I know named Whiskers, who’s opening up a club downtown.” First of all, how refreshing to hear a line like that on television (or a television-like platform) again. The old-fashioned “thrice,” the unnecessary listing of examples, and the silly names all in the mix—no other sitcoms write dialogue like Emily Kapnek shows.
Before Freddy can reveal his party wisdom, Eliza interrupts to ask the obvious question, “Why do all your friends have cat names?”
“They just do.” Freddy’s delivery is so cocky, like he’s just really proud of his cat-name friends. Now that’s how you land a line. His wisdom is something Henry would appreciate: The party must suit the celebrant. Then he shows more signs of life with some deeply held opinions on the filmography of Tom Cruise. (Cruise had no business playing The Last Samurai.) And at the end he brings us back to his cat friends. “No, but seriously, I gotta go meet Sylvester and Hobbes.” He’s funny enough to enjoy watching him with Eliza, but he doesn’t come close to arousing the butterflies that Henry does when he’s with her. If Freddy tried to give Eliza a big birthday kiss the way Julia does for Henry, it would fall just as flat. In short, Henry is the perfect temp.
As for the party, Henry’s reaction is pretty obnoxious, which is a testament to how deeply he feels about his birthday. It isn’t just that he doesn’t like the mandatory rituals. There’s something deeper. Eliza also has a traumatic history with birthday parties attended only by her one friend, a super bitchy clown her mom hired. Maybe it is about the mandatory ritual. Not the little ones but the big one. Eliza’s never really had friends, and Henry doesn’t have such a robust social life himself, so having to go through the annual tradition of sharing their birthdays with friends mostly reminds them what they don’t have. But staying in his comfort zone is no way for Henry to grow. It’s when he gets out of his shell that he makes a friend. Eliza deserves some credit for thoughtfully coordinating a perfectly Henry party, but the best gift was the seemingly meaningless Blues Traveler tickets after all.
- Now that Selfie’s back for a few weeks, future reviews will be up every week there’s a new episode, on Tuesdays at 8:30 P.M. Eastern. Mostly for old time’s sake. I wasn’t kidding about this Hulu thing bringing out my inner Henry.
- Charmonique’s standoff with Henry over the “Happy Birthday” song is a delight. “Thank you, Charmonique. I have been served.”
- Julia at dinner with Henry: “Unlike you, the night is still young. That’s just a bit of birthday ribbing. I hope I didn’t take it too far.”
- What song are the violins playing at Henry’s party while Charmonique is at the bar? I have the tune in my head, but I can’t place it, and it’s killing me.
- Larry drunkenly passes out on Eliza’s couch dreaming of a threesome. “Let’s get you into something more comfortable, huh?” he whispers while unzipping the pillow.