Well, that was promising.
Selfie is obviously still finding its feet, but “Un-Tag My Heart” pointed its characters in the direction I was hoping it would, last week—something that focused more on the dynamic between these two fascinating characters and less on the perceived flaws of one of them, in particular. It’s a subtler type of humor, to be sure—nothing quite has the punchiness of “loose sexual morals” and vomit spilling all over Eliza’s minidress—but it’s so much more fascinating.
Primarily, the reason “Un-Tag My Heart” works is that it shows how badly Henry needs help, even as Eliza pursues another misadventure. And while Karen Gillan is funny and cute and says all the right things and looks great in a wine-colored cocktail dress, John Cho staring at a computer for five minutes is fucking hilarious. (His first Facebook friend is his mom! He stalks his exes! He takes the “Which Game Of Thrones Character Are You?” quiz on Buzzfeed and gets Sansa Stark, because of course he does.)
And more broadly, the reason that matters is that unlike the top-down focus of the pilot—where Eliza was the problem and Henry was there to save the day—in “Un-Tag My Heart,” both characters have parallel storylines that converge strategically. And in a kind of basic, beautiful sitcom storytelling structure that is literally really hard for a lot of other shows, the story moves forward based purely on the way these two characters relate to each other.
Let me just walk us through the episode, quickly: The episode starts with Henry and Eliza literally just chatting with each other over coffee, about “haters”; they move apart, to where Henry can hear some of Eliza’s haters bitching about her; and then he tries to shield her from scrutiny by drawing her away to discuss it. They then leave that conversation determined to make changes: She, to talk to the Sweet Potato President about “spending time together outside,” he, to spend all night learning about Facebook. The next morning, they briefly run into each other; she wants to talk about her conversation, and he hides Facebook from her. He lectures her on having other interests besides men. She decides she needs a hobby, and sweet-talks her way into the book club. She Facetimes him to tell him she’s joining the book club. During that conversation she tells him about the Facebook app. He downloads the Facebook app and creates a Facebook problem for himself. Cut to the comic climax of the episode, the book club meeting: Henry walks in; hilarity ensues. And then after Eliza fixes his problem, Henry goes to talk to have a conversation with his ex-girlfriend.
And that conversation, literally in the third act, 21 minutes into the runtime of the episode, is when one of the main characters has a conversation with someone not each other that leads to some kind of character development. Henry realizes that he’s missed out on a lot of life. And then what does he do, dear readers? He channels that back into his relationship with Eliza. He’s feeling lonely, he checks Facebook, he sees that she is posting selfies of herself from a hospital bed, and he goes to find her.
That is pretty damn brilliant work. These are two characters who despite driving each other crazy are also really learning from each other—and what’s maybe most astonishing is that right now, romance isn’t even part of the equation. There is definitely something romantic that could happen—my ’shipper siren went off when he was actively worried about her in the hospital, and then got snippy when Sweet Potato President tried to take her home—but at the same time, they’re both so separately annoying that it’s also perfectly reasonable that they’d be just coworking friends, connected to each other by the tenuous connection of, “I need you for advice.”
And like, just so we’re clear: The episode is quite funny. Sitcoms, in my mind, take a while to settle into their jokes—the audience often needs to get the rhythm, get the characters, get the style. But some of the one-liners here are gold, delivered with impeccable timing from the two leads who continue to have great chemistry together.
It is not without problems—that whole manhole-falling car-hitting hospital accident feels a little extra for a show that, as I tried to make clear above, literally did most of its storytelling through just conversation. The element of the absurd disrupts the rhythm of their back-and-forth, and also introduces the confusing idea that the universe might be trying to communicate to Eliza that she needs to stop answering booty calls.
But that is textbook Emily Kapnek—as Brandon Nowalk noted in the pre-air review of Selfie, her style tends towards the stylized. Suburgatory was distinguished for how it felt so coherently otherworldly, “the dialogue, the colors, the sets.” Selfie is not quite as fantastical—it has the makings of it, with KinderKare Pharmaceuticals and the supporting characters who are more supporting caricatures.
But the relationship between Henry and Eliza is a real, grounded, complicated thing, and it seems to exist as this piece of authentic contrast to the world of funhouse mirrors that is all around them. And if that just sounded like the first sentence of Henry/Eliza fanfiction, I am sorry, but hashtag deal with it.
- Full disclosure: The A.V. Club writer Amelie Gillette wrote this episode. And while there was no mention of the Tolerability Index, the first part is about haters!
- Yo, ABC, I like “Girls Chase Boys” as much as the next critic, but the soundmixing in that scene was all wrong.
- Yo, Selfie, I do not think you need the voiceover anymore. Gillan and Cho can carry the story without Gillan’s narration explaining that one or the other of them is sad. BUT, the voiceover did provide my biggest laugh of the night, with “It’s weird how much stuff is like crack.”
- “First ladies aren’t on the ballot.” “Aw, it’s just an honor to be nominated.”
- This joke is untranslatable to text, but I rather enjoyed it: “He needs to know ‘sup’!”
- “Is this a Jerry Maguire moment?!”
- “I didn’t love Mark McGrath, I admired his resilience.”
- “Eliza? My ex thinks I have a lactating fetish. Can we regroup on this?”
- My DVR cut off the last few seconds, so if it was a really funny joke, please do dish.