One of TV’s singular pleasures is watching a struggling show find itself. When “Selfie” premiered on ABC last month, I lumped it in with “Manhattan Love Story” and “A to Z,” television’s other lackluster new romantic comedies. Five weeks later, those two shows are both cancelled and “Selfie” has quietly turned into one of the funniest, most delightful sitcoms on TV.
Tonight, the show returns from a one-week hiatus with two back-to-back episodes (we can thank “Manhattan Love Story”’s cancellation for the extra half-hour) that illustrate how charming it has become.
The show still has its terrible title, but writer Emily Kapnek has tweaked the irritating premise— Instagram-obsessed Eliza (Karen Gillan) turns to her colleague Henry (John Cho) for help in becoming a less superficial, more considerate person. The pilot’s least appealing quality was its condescending gender dynamic: a shallow woman who needed to be schooled by a man. It seemed to forget that in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, the show’s source material, Henry Higgins was as misguided as Eliza. In tonight’s episodes, though, it’s Henry who needs saving: from boring his boss, from loneliness, from spending his nights at home reading Philip Roth. (“Selfie” is as comfortable with references to The Counterlife as it is with Renee Zellweger jokes.) The show works best with them as an odd couple, Henry’s priggishness clashing with Eliza’s antics.
And “Selfie” is overcoming the pitfalls of its romantic comedy premise by deepening its supporting characters (except, thankfully, the ukelele-playing faux-y Deschanels from its pilot) and turning itself into a skewed workplace comedy. Good sitcoms have a deep bench—think Donna and Jerry on “Parks and Recreation”—and “Selfie” is starting to build out its slightly cartoonish world. Plus, it’s revealing the comedic chops of “Homeland”’s David Harewood. Just listen to the way he intones the line “You can’t make love to a salad” in tonight’s first episode.