Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Selfie: “Landline”

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First, some bad news. The great television rom-com trend is now but an unreconstructed urinary tract in the body of television with no Dr. J to save it. First Manhattan Love Story, then A To Z, and now Selfie is cancelled. The timing seems odd creatively after two electric episodes, but the show only galvanized the fans it already had. No new ones rushed to see what was wrong when we all swooned in unison. And without at least the carcass of Manhattan Love Story to pretend like ABC Tuesday is a party, Weekend-At-Bernie’s-style, Selfie was all alone to welcome audiences to a night of programming that includes nobody’s favorite bureaucracy and the latest immortal detective. The only question now, aside from how many “Will TBS/Netflix/Zune rescue Selfie?” articles we’re in for, is whether ABC will air the remaining episodes.

It’s on that cheery note that I bring up the dark heart of Selfie, exposed in a moment of cold anger in “Landline”: Love isn’t just some cutesy endgame for Eliza and Henry. It’s a capital-P Problem. Eliza tries to describe Henry as a friend—her only IRL friend, in fact, which makes me want even more Charmonique—but that’s not quite right. They’re not friends the way you’re friends with the people you hang out with. They have appointments to adjust her behavior. And just because that goes two ways sometimes doesn’t change the fact that this is a casual friendship built on a therapy chassis. Either of them falling for the other is thorny thanks to the power dynamics. And that’s just the foundation for the trash smell inside the perfume.

The putrid scent “Landline” wafts to the surface is Eliza’s narcissism. When Henry starts courting a gentlewoman named Julia, the match he met outside his episode of The Bachelor who is secretly a Henry clone put in an android woman’s body, Eliza gets jealous. First she takes Bryn’s advice and tries to be supportive. But when Henry tells her that they’ll have to spend less time together, she goes full Charmonique and leaves a bunch of negative reviews of Julia, a pediatric urologist, at her website. Sure, those reviews are from “The Urineversity of Southern Bladderfornia,” and they describe Dr. J’s penchant for drinking baby urine and her Peen-hD in urinology, but the intent is clear. Eliza’s trying to “take the bitch down.”

Is it narcissism though? Clearly Eliza is self-centered to the point of delusion. She’s all worried about introducing the keynote speaker at PharmaceutiCon and is satisfied with, “Thank you. And now, this guy,” and the final joke of the episode is how, in her head, she’s a bigger person than the heroic Dr. Julia, and for once she’s not speaking literally. Narcissism is something that will, er, would probably have to be addressed in the long run if there were such a thing as the long run on Selfie. Henry and Eliza wouldn’t just be a happy couple if they got together right now. But in this instance, Eliza isn’t acting out of surface-level narcissism. She doesn’t want Henry’s attention because she demands everyone’s attention. She wants his attention because she likes him. If he could bear to think about the past two episodes at all, he must know that. But he chalks it up to her being monstrously self-centered, which is wrong, even if it’s only wrong in the specific.

That leads to the big crisis of the episode, when Henry shows up at Eliza’s door and gives her shame eyes. Eliza tries to smooth things over, first by trying to charm him with ditziness, then by saying this is proof that she needs him. “You do need help,” he tells her, “but you’re not gonna get it from me.” He ends their relationship, and he walks away. Whatever butterflies you have for them settle into a pit. And in case it wasn’t clear how serious this is, at the end when Henry surprises her, Eliza can’t stop crying. But here in the hallway, Henry all but admits their relationship is casual therapy and that she’s beyond his expertise. Suddenly you have to confront that this is the basis for all that romance. There’s no shipping Henry and Eliza without first dealing with their imbalance. After two episodes designed to have us drooling over this relationship, “Landline” lets both Eliza and Henry tear it apart so we can see all the frayed wires and tangled cords inside before they patch things up and pretend like everything’s okay again. If you ever needed assurance that Selfie knows exactly what it is, “Landline” is it.

Naturally things work out okay. A great comic scene with Bryn and an accordion cake in the elevator leads Eliza to make Dr. J a cake of the urinary system. (“May I offer you a piece of the urethra?” Julia asks Henry on their romantic night in.) Seeing that apology, Henry shows up at Eliza’s big event and reconciles. He recounts all these things that she’s done that prove she still needs his help, and she just keeps crying and laughing. What a perfect finale. They’re overtly discussing her behaviors they’d like to curb while covertly giving each other lingering hugs. They’re therapy-flirting, and it gives just the right impression: aww with a very faint uh-oh.


Stray observations:

  • Sonia Saraiya wrote about a significant byproduct of Selfie’s cancellation: the dearth of Asian-American romantic leads on television (and interracial couples in general). Canceling Selfie is a “blow for the movement of Getting John Cho Laid On-Screen.” Where do I sign up?
  • Lesson Of The Week: rotary phones. Is this the first time Henry’s had a totally stupid lesson? Maybe a landline could come in handy, but why rotary? Make her work on a typewriter, while you’re at it.
  • Friendship, noun: “Henry and I spend a lot of time together and we never have sex. We are in the truest sense, friends.”
  • Eliza: “I tell you every single detail about my love life with Freddy.” Henry: “That is a habit I’m desperately trying to break you of.”
  • More proof that Henry is behaving badly too: “Even though he’s a tool, I try to be encouraging.” “As I will be of your tiny, sterile, micropocket lady-boy.”
  • Find David Harewood another comedy: “You know who else was a little bit of a rule-breaker?” he asks Eliza. “Harriet Tubman.”