The pilot episode of ABC's new social media-themed comedy Selfie is so blunt and gross, it's almost daring people to dismiss it on sight. Our heroine Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) is a sales rep bragging about her hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, but her pride quickly takes a massive fall. She realizes her boyfriend is already married, accidentally bathes her legs in vomit, and is laughed off an airplane by her coworkers. Eliza's obsession with status duly undercut, we proceed to the actual premise of the show: She wants her firm's PR specialist Henry (John Cho) to make her over into a decent human who people might actually like, rather than "like."
If you haven't guessed it from the names, Selfie updates Pygmalion—but this contemporary Eliza is no working-class flower girl who needs to pass for royalty, and this Henry isn't taking her up as some gentleman's bet. Creator Emily Kapnek has Eliza make the decision to update her image, but that still sticks the show with a premise that could get creepy fast: a man tailing a woman around, yelling at her to behave.
It's a little strange to see a contemporary sitcom take up the template of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play and its well-remembered 1956 musical adaptation My Fair Lady, given how domineering and borderline abusive the central relationship between Eliza and Henry is. In Pygmalion, speech expert Higgins works to pass Eliza off as a duchess to satisfy a bet, but becomes both her replacement father figure (her own dad is a money-grubbing drunk) and faux-husband (who relies on her to keep his house in order). It's a powerful but abrasive tale of Eliza seizing her independence and Higgins learning some humility, with an indefinite ending that doesn't really suggest happy romance is to come for the pair. My Fair Lady sands many of the harsher edges off to make their relationship more conventionally romantic, but it's still a story of a man taking months to realize he cares about a woman who he spends the whole time ordering around like a servant.