Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Pilot previews: Fox's BACKSTROM & ABC's SELFIE

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Based on Swedish novels by author Leif G.W Persson and developed by Hart Hanson (Bones), detective drama BACKSTROM has had a bumpy ride to our screens, after CBS passed on a 2012 pilot and Fox jumped in to prevent it becoming a footnote in the annals of TV history. This drama stars Rainn Wilson (The Office) as Everett Backstrom; an irascible, offensive detective with the uncanny ability to solve mysteries.

There are so many detective dramas that I have a tough time finding value in most of them. Seriously, who has time to watch hours and hours of this stuff every year, even if it's a genre you like? Lovers of crime mysteries are spoilt for choice, which means they can be incredibly picky about which sleuths are worth sticking with, or can fit into a viewing schedule. Is Everett Backstrom going to make the cut with Fox? The success of this drama rests on how you respond to The Office's Wilson and his schlubby performance, which isn't far off 'a depressed Dwight Schrute solves crimes'. I don't think Wilson has much range as an actor, sadly, and it's unclear how compelling Backstrom will be once the novelty of seeing his tetchy irritant play the unlikely hero wears off.

This pilot's storyline about a college teen found hanged, with a bloodstream full of heroine, could have come from any number of detective dramas; the only difference being this one has a bad-mannered genius playing a slovenly Sherlock. Is that enough to keep you watching through the formulas these American procedurals all adhere to? For me, it's a no.

written by Hart Hanson | directed by Mark Mylod

Almost a laugh-free disaster zone is ABC sitcom SELFIE, which has George Bernard Shaw spinning in his grave. Shaw being the author of Pygmalian (the basis of hit musical My Fair Lady), which Selfie is a tone-deaf modernisation of.

Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) plays iPhone-obsessed narcissist Eliza Dooley, a superficial bimbo who exists through a social media lens. After suffering an embarrassing incident on a plane (she spills vomit bags of puke over herself, ha-ha!), Eliza realises she has no real friends offering a shoulder to cry on. This inspires her to enlist the help of marketing guru Henry Higenbottam (Star Trek's John Cho), to transform her into a responsible, polite, upstanding, well-rounded, sophisticated woman.

I don't actually hate the concept and intention behind Selfie. There have been good US comedy remakes of classic literature that produced entertaining modernisations for a new generation to enjoy. Lest we forget, cult favourite Clueless was based on Jane Austen's Emma, and 10 Things I Hate About You used Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew as a palimpsest. I can imagine someone taking the idea behind Selfie and creating a clever, witty film that doesn't dishonour Pygmalian, but I wouldn't turn it into a sitcom intended to last years. How can you possibly stretch Eliza's transformation out for more than a handful of episodes? It would be ridiculous if she's still a self-obsessed nightmare by the end of this season, let alone the second or third season. It would only call into question the abilities of mentor Henry.

Putting the issue of the show's longevity aside, an idealised version of Selfie would need to much funnier and smarter than this pilot suggests the show will be. Gillan had a short-lived comedy background before Doctor Who made her a global star, but her performance in Selfie is ear-achingly terrible. Eliza's an ugly chimera of every insensitive youngster in the world, and Gillan certainly succeeds in making her character appear truly awful—but there's scant nuance, or potential for Eliza's growth. She gets a makeover that turns her into a more sophisticated looking woman, and ends the pilot as slightly less detestable... but I can't stomach the idea of spending any more time in this thin caricature's company.

A movie version would have been preferable, as it would have stronger forward momentum until Henry's job's done and Eliza emerges as a "normal human being" within two-hours, but a network sitcom will only prolong the existence of Gillan's awful Eliza in her most irritating, nails-down-a-chalkboard form.

written by Emily Kapnek | directed by Julie Anne Robinson