Friday, October 17, 2014

Selfie 1x03 "A Little Yelp From My Friends" [Contributor: Ann]

I adore Selfie so much. (I had to get that off my chest. I always have to get that off my chest.) It’s goofy fun, surprisingly romantic, stylistic, and stars two characters I have so much to say about (and even with this post, will still have more to say).

I do admit that this episode - “A Little Yelp From My Friends” - wasn’t as strong to me as the episode that preceded it (“Un-Tag My Heart”) but that's of no consequence, really. It’s too late for me to be deterred from this show in any way. I’m hooked. I’m hooked, and I’m in love, and an episode that is not as good as the episode that got me hooked is still completely okay.

I’m just going to state my nitpick upfront so that I don’t have to talk about it anymore, because this is less a review as it is a character study, but in case anyone’s interested: Eliza and Henry’s plots didn’t intersect as much as they did in the previous episode. And I love when their plots intersect as much as possible.

Nitpick over! Let’s do what I do best and overanalyze TV with Selfie! I will obviously be relating this entire review to the inevitable will-they-won’t-they between Eliza and Henry. I’m sorry. I just love love too much.

The cold open begins with Eliza monologuing about her love of her cell phone, including: “But my coworker Henry believes that being so close to my phone is what’s keeping me from being close to non-phones, like people.” A few things to point out here: one, the use of “coworker,” to be contrasted later on in the episode; two, that the second part of that statement is basically the premise of the show and, in context of this episode, foreshadowing to what will eventually happen between her and Joan and, in turn, her and Henry. (I want to make clear that no matter what they tell you, every single plot that Eliza and Henry do separately is intended to reflect on their relationship or affect their relationship in some way. They are learning lessons so that they can get closer to each other. This is a love story. It’s a character growth story to get to that point of love, though, and the fact that they’re doing this journey together—with exact opposite problems—is what’s going to get them to fall in love with each other eventually).

At the beginning of the episode—again, to be contrasted with the end—you see their individual problems impede them from having a real conversation (though the nature of their relationship allows them to address this). Eliza is obsessing over something on her phone, and Henry is engaging in small talk, which is not a real form of communication. They both have something to learn from each other; they are both skilled in socializing, just in different universes, and both with an appropriate amount of emotional distance between them and the person they’re speaking to.

(Um, digression here—am I allowed to point out Henry having his hand on Eliza’s back is such a Danny Castellano move? No? Great, okay, great.)

Now take a look at what Mr. Boss is saying. Kinderkare Pharmaceuticals is “a family… and the more connected our family is, the more [the] business will thrive.” Which, in the context of this episode, shows that the world Henry and Eliza are in is as equally distant from each other. I mean, only wanting to seek connections for a business to thrive? The world accepts this inauthenticity. Henry and Eliza are especially inauthentic, but they’re our main characters, and the fact that they connect with each other means so much more in this setting, when it is so uncommon—when connection is economical, not emotional.

This is another digression and just a thing that I have always loved as a writer or analyzer, whichever—I love that when Eliza is called out (ha! pun!) for being on her phone in the meeting, the camera flashes to Henry. I mean, obviously it would, but like my love of conflict and fighting to reveal how a character feels about another character, I am also a big fan of how character B reacts to character A’s embarrassment. Henry from the pilot reacted to Eliza with contempt, not having any idea—or even the desire to have a greater idea—of who Eliza actually was. This Henry is angry with her, yes, but he also feels that embarrassment on her behalf too, which John Cho sells with his eyes. That, to me, indicates how much he cares about her.

And speaking of how much he cares about her, can I just mention how clearly, and how cleverly, the initial premise of Selfie has been thrown out? Not out of the writers’ room by changing course post-pilot, but out of the fact that the reason that Eliza reached out to Henry truly is false now, even as it operates under that guise. Henry still gives Eliza advice on how to better herself, but by this point—whether he, or she, realizes it—that is not their primary reason for staying in touch. Professional interest obviously was always going to be a cover for his budding feelings for her, and likely will continue to be—but I’m happy that this is occurring so soon, that they both are making gestures of friendship (or something more?) so soon.

Someone asked me if I thought Henry and Eliza's relationship was moving too fast, and I said no, because for this show, it is so appropriate—and believable—that Eliza and Henry would become attached to each other so quickly. They both are starving for a real human connection. Eliza’s story is more developed at the present as to how desperate this need is; she never had any friends in her childhood, and overcompensated by becoming what she thought people would want her to be. Henry’s story thus far is simply that he is a workaholic, but the effects are more starkly clear: he wants a family, but he is so distant in his relationships that he fears he will never get close enough to have one. These two individuals are uniquely tragic and equally suited for each other.

As I mentioned, the brunt of the episode doesn’t have a lot of intersection between Henry and Eliza, as they both work to befriend—or at least handle—who they are paired with. Given that Henry’s story is a bit of a retread of last week's (he was wrong, he has just as much to learn, etc.), I think Eliza’s provides more fodder to analyze, mostly on the type of character she is. (With her increasing influence on Henry, this is important for him, too.)

Eliza goes to insane lengths to befriend Joan—by the way, because Henry told her to. She memorizes verbatim Joan’s reviews, goes to Joan’s dance class, buys pizza, and remembers extraneous details about Joan’s husband’s allergies. And she feels bad about doing all of this when Joan chides her.
I do have to say, if I were Joan and someone put in that much effort to know me, well, kudos. But I think I see Joan’s point in being upset, not just that it’s kind of creepy how much people can get from you on the internet. It’s also demonstrative that Eliza’s best method of befriending someone is through superficial means. She is only three episodes into bettering herself as a person, so she shouldn’t be faulted for not knowing any better, or for resorting to the means that are most comfortable for her. I mean, she didn’t have friends as a child and only has fake friends as an adult; I’m sure befriending people is not easy for her because she’s never actually done it. But the fact that she tries so hard for Joan’s approval—and Henry’s—makes her such an endearing character to me. People so easily call Eliza a caricature, but she is that superficial person because it was the way she felt she had to be to get through life. But Eliza's determination and willingness to be better, even if it means admitting her faults, is what is distinctively her.

I’m sure this is what endears her to Henry, too. I mean, I am literally sure that this is it, because in the pilot the only reason he “took her under his wing” (pssssssssshhht) is because she wanted it so badly that she went to his house and asked him for a second chance. She also contributed real, raw information about herself in the process; her bad behavior at the wedding, like her bad behavior most anywhere else on Selfie, is a defense mechanism, not a reflection of her character. There’s something real there. Something worth investing time in.

In this episode, Henry and Eliza don’t hang out too much until the end, when Eliza comes to him admit her failure just as Henry admits his own. They are both equally bad at office friendships, they realize. Which makes the next part so much better. Because as Henry talks to Larry with Eliza standing witness, we get a VERY SIGNIFICANT VOICEOVER—that is, a voiceover that appears to be about one thing but is really important to us, the audience, for its second meaning. The voiceover is pretty short, but the point is this: to forge a connection with someone, you don’t have to do something grand for them. Oftentimes the grand things are just as fake as what Eliza and Henry were doing in the episode. Henry’s advice more or less is that small gestures, so long as they’re real and come from the heart, can mean so much more than keeping up an appearance or doing something grand in hopes of establishing a connection with someone.

I gotta say, how great is it that the show deliberately sets a parallel between a married couple and Eliza and Henry? So great, and important, too, because when I am asked the purpose of that advice, it’s both to express to us the audience this fact (small gestures mean the most) and to indirectly teach Henry and Eliza the same. Henry’s words must resonate with him, because within the same day he tells his assistant to buy Eliza that small trash can. (FYI, learning something about how to connect with your pal Eliza in the context of a married couple? YEAH, OKAY SHOW.)

I love this gesture that Henry makes. It’s so specific to this show and so original and fresh. It is Henry tacitly saying that he’d like to build… well, I guess a “friendship” (at this point) with Eliza, that she is worth connecting with as a friend outside of professional interest.

So Henry buys Eliza the trash bin because he wants to make clear: he wants to establish a connection with her and will go out of his way to do so. (He has an uncanny ability of remembering Eliza-related things.) In turn, Eliza reaches out by revealing something personal about herself.

I love Karen Gillan’s acting in this scene. Eliza’s voice is so Valley Girl so much of the time, but when she confesses why she eats standing over a trash can, it loses that inflection and becomes tinged with the sadness from her childhood; she does this little thing as a result of her past. “But I’m used to it,” she then says, with the Valley Girl inflection returning. It’s not an excuse or a dismissal of what she’s confessed. It’s something more pitiful: the way people have treated her have led her to become “used to” so many things, including the addiction to her phone. As I said before, these things aren’t exactly hated by Eliza, but they’re not who Eliza really is. (I am, if you can’t tell, a huge fan of Eliza.)

You get a cut to Henry while Eliza’s talking as she reveals this about herself, which is good; it shows us that this information affects him. We need that cut, too, because as soon as she’s done speaking he acts to rectify what has been done to her in the past. And again he connects with her, actually listening to what she’s saying—in this case, the raw and genuine sadness behind that statement.  So they get closer. (Hopefully they can keep it up!)

I am fascinated by the last part of the episode, when Eliza and Henry rate each other. As an overanalyzer, here is what I have concluded: Eliza has more reason to feel connected to Henry within the context of that scene. He bought her the trash can, remembered why it was important that she eat standing up, stated that he wanted to eat near her, and then stood next to her once he (openly) listened to what she was saying. So on one hand, her 6 makes sense. He is treating her incredibly kindly and going out of his way more than once to appease her.

So what’s with the 4.7, rounds up to a 5? Well, on one hand, the 4.7 shows (more than Eliza’s 6) the attempt to quantify feeling, or to make feeling or connection technical, even if doing so is brutal and frank. The “rounds to a 5” tries to nullify this—for whose sake it’s unclear, whether if it’s to make Eliza feel welcome or if it’s to make Henry happy that he’s making Eliza feel welcome or both. In my personal opinion, though, even though Eliza has more reason to feel a connection to Henry, Henry is the one reaching out to Eliza for connection, so having his gestures well-received—and the existence and thought of said gestures—should indicate that he cares more about Eliza at this point than she does for him. The guy often falls for the girl first in romantic comedies, and often falls harder.

So my interpretation of the 4.7 is that it is a defense mechanism. Trying to quantify feeling is impossible, but you’d only want to quantify feeling if you were afraid of experiencing feeling in its entirety. “Rounds up to a 5,” my ass, Henry. I think you’re getting perilously close to cups-face levels on the Tatum/Dewan-Tatum Scale.

WHEW. I had a lot to say about this episode of Selfie, clearly. And next episode looks so good that this is just a warm-up, everybody. GET READY TO DANCE.


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