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'Selfie,' 'Manhattan Love Story' — ABC's seasonal love potion

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
'Selfie' and 'Manhattan Love Story' debuting on ABC is a rom-com love potion that's a bit difficult to swallow

Romantic comedies are in this season — relationship shows in which the He and the She are the main business, the anointed point.

These are not the had-to-happen-eventually hookups of ensemble pieces such as "The Mindy Project" and "The New Girl," which, being bad ideas in the first place, are only ever temporary and upon which such series don't really depend (as much as their makers might think they do). True love, and the getting of it, is the main event.

Big-screen rom-coms traditionally end when the relationship finally begins, or begins again after a rupture, leaving the happily-ever-after to the viewer's imagination, should anyone bother to imagine it. This makes the genre problematic for television, which wants its series to be infinitely extensible. If your show runs for five years, say, when does the courtship pay off, and what happens once it does?

ABC is premiering two romantic comedies Tuesday: the terrifyingly named "Selfie," a "Pygmalion"/"My Fair Lady" for the social media degeneration, and "Manhattan Love Story," a dating odyssey whose incipient couple's thoughts are audible to the viewers. (It is not a new idea.)

The couples in each series are presented initially as poor matches — which by the classic terms of the form means they're made for each other — whose mutual irritation is softened a smidgen by the pilot's end, the better to get you to tune in next week.

"Selfie," whose pilot has been streaming online in advance of its broadcast premiere — presumably to attract the very viewers whose use of digital media the series also attacks — is not shy about its roots: Karen Gillan's character is named Eliza Dooley; John Cho's is Henry Higgenbottam, as in "Just you wait, Henry Higgenbottam, just you wait."

She's a social media-addicted hot mess, with followers but no friends. He's the stiff-necked marketing wizard she asks to "rebrand" her after an online humiliation. (They're colleagues in a pharmaceutical company whose "bestselling pediatric nasal spray was pulled from the shelves for causing satanic hallucinations," a crisis he managed.)

He doesn't like her, but he likes the challenge of remaking her inside and out; one fillip on the original is that Eliza has already remade herself by herself from a high-school dumpling into what much of the world would regard as a fabulous creature. (The original's class issues, except as Americans understand the word "classy," are nonexistent.)

Of course, he'll need her as much as she'll need him, is how this story will go.

There are bumps in the road: Eliza calls Henry a "coxcomb," of all the words she would never speak; and for a marketing expert to be disdainful of social media, as Henry is, would in the year 2014 be grounds for dismissal. There are too many "hashtag" jokes.

But like Eliza's character, the show starts out annoying and then gets less annoying. Gillan, who was Amy Pond on "Doctor Who," is winning, even without her Scots accent. Cho, though he has the less-rewarding role — the character lacks the imperiousness of Shaw's Henry — partners her well. I don't have great hopes for this, but I had expected it to burn the eyes from my head, and that is not at all the case.

The central conceit of "Manhattan Love Story" — the interplay between its main characters' unspoken thoughts and their speech and actions — allows for slipping in extra jokes but does nothing in particular to enrich or advance the narrative. (Him: "Totally going back to my place; when's the last time I washed the sheets?" Her: "He thinks we're going back to his place; I hate that he's right.") You could strip out these audible thought balloons with no harm done; the actors are already delivering the subtext or countertext with their, you know, acting.

As small-town girl Dana chasing her dreams and trying her luck in New York, Analeigh Tipton is no Eliza Dooley: She can't properly work a cellphone and has a rom-com heroine's tendency toward adorable self-embarrassment, but she's a plucky lass and a ray of sunshine wherever she goes. One wants to like the show on Tipton's behalf, but there is no real spark between her and designated future boyfriend Peter (Jake McDorman). And Peter's own thoughts show him to be kind of a jerk — more of a jerk, I imagine, than we are meant to think him.

They are surrounded by some good players; I especially like Chloe Wepper and Nicolas Wright as Peter's sister and brother, who have the advantage of not being yoked to the romance. McDorman's scenes with them, at the trophy company where they all work, are his best as well. Perhaps they should go their separate way, into a separate sitcom.

Follow me on Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd

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'Selfie'

Where: ABC

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

'Manhattan Love Story'

Where: ABC

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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