Back in September, Selfie burst out of the gate with a confidence that was unwavering, even when its first episode was far from perfect. It was this confidence — and the obvious potential found within that first half-hour, largely due to its two irresistible leads John Cho and Karen Gillan — that kept me (and a group of loyal viewers) returning week after week, first to ABC and then, after its frustrating cancelation, to Hulu. ABC decided to burn off the rest of the episodes on Hulu, a move that provides mixed feelings: Yes, we get to see the conclusion of a series but also we get to see how positively that series has progressed after it was deemed not good (see: popular) enough for television. In Selfie‘s particular case, we saw how important confidence was for the series — and the protagonist, Eliza Dooley.
Throughout the all too-short season of 13 episodes, creator Emily Kapnek (of ABC’s other funny and smart cancelled-too-soon sitcom Suburgatory) and co. delved into the previously hidden depths of Eliza to question why the social media obsessive, shallow Instagram queen turned out the way she did. During the first half of the season, we came to know Eliza as she is now, and the specific aspects of her personality that she wanted (or thought she needed to change), mostly through the lens of her mentorship turned friendship turned will-they/won’t-they with coworker Henry (Cho). As the series — and the characters — progressed, we learned more about Eliza’s past, so much so that her individual growth often outshone her dynamic with Henry which was incredibly refreshing for a sitcom that falls strictly within the romantic-comedy genre.
During the first few episodes after the switch from ABC to Hulu, Eliza shakily comes to terms with her feelings for Henry and acts upon them (first, by literally stripping down in front of him in “Follow Through” and then by explicitly stating her exact feelings for him in “Imperfect Harmony”). When things don’t work out, as they’re wont not to do in first and second acts of rom-coms, because Henry doesn’t fully believe that Eliza’s feelings are true, Eliza acts out at the holiday party with an impressive karaoke set followed by an even more impressive amount of booze. It’s perhaps a regression back to her pre-Henry, party girl-ish type ways (that, let’s be fair, she never fully grows out of during the series because — in a testament to the depth of the writing — no one ever really does a complete 180 that quickly, despite what television redemption programs would have you think).
Selfie then takes a necessary step back from the Henry and Eliza relationship in order to focus more on their individual personalities (with a heavy emphasis on Eliza, of course, as this is really just her story). First, they deal with Eliza’s money problems in “Perestroika” with a narrative that smartly gets Eliza and Henry back into their original relationship (he helps her get her shit together) but doesn’t at all erase the tension that now exists between them.
In the final two episodes, Eliza deals with her past and childhood head-on when her sister comes to visit (“Stick in the Mud”) and when she encounters the mean girl who bullied her in school (the series finale, “I Woke Up Like This”). Both episodes are more concerned with the nuances of Eliza’s personality and the way her perceived overconfidence (like say, when it comes to bragging about her follower count or giving Ryan Gosling’s brother a lapdance without music) can be seen as Eliza’s attempts to compensate for her lifelong insecurities. One of the reasons she seeks validation from Twitter followers or Instagram likes is because she spent her youth either overshadowed by her older sister Bethany (a feeling that returns when Bethany reveals that she’s pregnant with her perfect husband’s baby, which sends Eliza into something of a tailspin) or the victim of bullying at the hands of her rival Corynn McWatters.
It’s an odd move to have the intentional season finale (and unintentional series finale) of a romantic-comedy center more on an old high school rivalry than on the actual couple (“couple”) but “I Woke Up Like This” works surprisingly well, even though it isn’t exactly flawless. Eliza actually looks up to her bully — because Corynn ended up smart and successful — until it turns out that Corynn actually coopted Eliza’s story of being bullied and lonely as her own, so Corynn’s book would be taken more seriously. Eliza doesn’t end the series lusting after Henry but instead finds an end to her own personal journey: She tears down the aspirational photos of Corynn from around the mirror and replaces it with her old junior high school photo, a reminder that she’s come a long way and a reminder to accept who she is. In another representation of how confident Eliza has grown throughout the 13 episodes (the result of not just Henry’s influence, but Eliza’s desire to grow, too), Eliza stares into the mirror and gleefully cuts off inches and inches of her hair.
Selfie doesn’t completely ignore the romantic plot that it’s hinged on, however. Rather, it puts some of the pieces in play for what will happen in the future. In a delightful subplot, Henry is also facing his high school past wherein he claimed to be a skateboarder. He gets the confidence to skate, only to learn that he is absolutely terrible at it, but thanks to the help of some teenagers, he cheesily decides to adopt a motto of “No fear,” even stating that this new way of living means he’ll go after Eliza next time the opportunity presents itself. Which, thanks to ABC, will never happen. Yet it’s fitting for this cute little show that it ends up on the theme of confidence, even if its unfortunately ironic that ABC didn’t have much confidence in the series itself.