March 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm #313134
This is going to be a tough sell for most people, but I thought the trailer was great, and the premise sounds like an interesting one, so I’m going to give it a watch tomorrow night. It’s only six episodes over a three-week period airing on Wednesday, which doesn’t instill much confidence on HBO’s part, but still. Very glad to see Emily Mortimer in a leading role here. Maybe she’ll redeem herself for “The Newsroom,” if that’s remotely possible. Reviews forthcoming.March 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm #313136
TV Review: “Doll & Em”
March 18, 2014 | 07:00 AM PT
The Brits do seem to love lampooning Hollywood, even if most of the shows, from Ricky Gervais’ showbiz-centric series to Showtime’s “Episodes,” mostly revel in familiar stereotypes. While no stranger to that tendency, what mildly sets “Doll & Em” apart is the female friendship at its core, which grows more interesting once the episodes start getting past the improbability of the premise, and the women’s stunning naivete that transforming their relationship from bosom buddies to employer-assistant won’t have negative consequences. Despite receiving the kiss-off treatment scheduling-wise, there are worthwhile moments here for those who take the full six-episode trip.
HBO clearly doesn’t harbor much faith its audience will buy that ticket, which might explain why it’s dispensing with “Doll” via back-to-back episodes over three successive Wednesdays. And while co-star Emily Mortimer still has her gig on “The Newsroom,” and some Hollywood celebs like Susan Sarandon and Chloe Sevigny drop by, one suspects the ratings for “Doll & Em” will make “Enlightened” look like “The Voice.”
Written by stars Mortimer and Dolly Wells with director Azazel Jacobs, the series features Mortimer’s Em as a successful British actress working on a Hollywood movie when she gets a teary-eyed call from childhood chum Dolly, who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Since it’s all dealt with in an opening-credit musical montage, we don’t get to actually hear the part where Em suggests that Doll come to L.A. to work as her assistant, or where Doll foolishly takes her up on the idea.
What ensues, naturally, is decidedly awkward, with Em insisting Doll is really her friend, not her employee, to anyone who’ll listen, but still subjecting her to menial tasks. Doll, meanwhile, hangs out with other assistants and experiences indignities at the hands of Hollywood types like Sarandon, who in one of those self-spoofing cameos enlists Doll to watch her kid. (Doll makes the mistake, in one of the funniest moments, of referring to the actress’ son as her grandson.)
Much of the serialized plot deals with the making of the movie within the show (please don’t call it a female version of “The Godfather,” as everyone seems intent on doing). Yet while Em struggles with the role and the double-talking director (Aaron Himelstein), Doll finds herself distracted by one of the producers (the dreamy Jonathan Cake), before her path takes an unexpected, mostly unconvincing turn.
Get past the particulars, and “Doll & Em” does contain insights about the evolving nature of friendships, especially when two people’s lives go in different directions. In that respect, there’s an underlying class distinction that probably plays more comfortably in the U.K., the palm trees and hot tubs notwithstanding.
Mortimer and Wells are both fine, juggling dramatic moments with more farcical ones, but this is still a fairly slight project even by HBO’s less-exacting standards. And after her adventures in the equivalent of Oz, the slightly shell-shocked Doll would probably agree with a line associated with another Em: There’s no place like home.
TV Review: “Doll & Em”
(Series; HBO, Wed. March 19, 10 p.m.)
Filmed in Los Angeles by King Bee Prods. in association with Revolution Films for Sky.
Executive producers, Andrew Eaton, Lucy Lumsden; producer, Alessandro Nivola; director, Azazel Jacobs; writers, Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, Jacobs; camera, Tobias Datum; editor, Darrin Navarro; music, Mandy Hoffman. 25 MIN.
Emily Mortimer, Dolly Wells, Jonathan CakeMarch 19, 2014 at 12:49 pm #313137
Review: HBO’s “Doll & Em” good at satirizing friendship, less at Hollywood
Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells created and star in new comedy of discomfort.
by Alan Sepinwall Wednesday, Mar 19, 2014 9:00 AM
HitFix Grade: C
One of the lessons drilled into any young writer is a simple one: “Write what you know.” The problem, at least when applying this rule to television, is that what many of the people who work in television know about is television and nothing but, which is why there have been so many shows over the years—most of them failures—about characters who work in the entertainment industry.
Inside showbiz stories aren’t inherently bad, as seven seasons of “30 Rock,” or even a showbiz-adjacent series like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” have amply demonstrated. But watching HBO’s new comedy series “Doll & Em,” all I could think about was how much I wished the setting was anywhere but Hollywood.
The series was created by its stars, Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer (who already has an HBO job on “The Newsroom”), and they play fictionalized versions of themselves. In reality, Wells is a working actress, but here she’s simply the childhood friend of Em (who appears to be more famous than Mortimer in real life) who moves in with Em after a bad breakup and takes a job as her personal assistant. And the new job creates a very blurry boundary between the moments when Em is treating Doll as her best friend and when she wants her to be an employee.
As written by Wells and Mortimer, sometimes in collaboration with the show’s chief director, Azazel Jacobs, “Doll & Em” is excellent at one thing: depicting the complicated ebbs and flows of a kind of female friendship where one friend is content only when she’s the alpha, and will badly undercut the beta to make this clear. Whether or not the stars’ own friendship is anything like this, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Em abuses (sometimes actively, sometimes obliviously) Doll ring absolutely true.
The problem is that this dark, observant comedy about an unhealthy friendship is inserted into a familiar Hollywood satire about pampered, neurotic movie stars (guest stars in the three episodes I’ve seen include Susan Sarandon and John Cusack) and the people who enable them. And every beat of that material is predictable and clumsy and unfunny. Like “Curb,” “The Office,” and “Extras,” “Doll & Em” is a comedy of discomfort, but because you can see the punchlines coming from several miles away, the sense of discomfort is vastly stronger than the laughter that is meant to compensate for it.
I don’t know for sure that the show would be vastly improved if Em was, say, a powerful investment banker, or a politician, or some other job that still allowed her to sweetly lord her status over Doll. But I know that this setting doesn’t really work at all, and obscures a promising core element that feels like it would work better elsewhere.
I would assume that HBO—which acquired the show from Sky, who produced it in the UK—recognizes that it has a flawed product on its hands. It’s not only airing the six episodes back-to-back over three straight weeks, but airing them on Wednesdays at 10 and 10:30. In the past, HBO has occasionally moved its scripted shows to Mondays if the schedule got too full, but I believe the last time HBO regularly aired a scripted show in a Wednesday timeslot was “The Larry Sanders Show” back in the mid-’90s.
The idea of a TV network acquiring an autobiographical project from one of its stars and then dumping it in an out of the way place once they get a good look at it feels like the sort of plot “Doll & Em” might tell in a future season. But that, again, wouldn’t be the show playing to its strength.March 19, 2014 at 1:05 pm #313138
NY Times’ review:
Do Friends Let Friends Sign Their Paychecks?
“Doll & Em,” as in Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer, on HBO.
by ALESSANDRA STANLEY
MARCH 18, 2014
It’s hard to imagine a worse premise than an actress and her best friend writing and starring together in a film about their friendship.
It’s so deadly, in fact, that it sounds like a joke from a Hollywood satire: the Preston Sturges movie “Sullivan’s Travels,” Robert Altman’s “The Player,” or an episode of “Episodes,” a sly sendup of the television business on Showtime.
“Doll & Em,” an HBO fictional series created by Emily Mortimer and her real-life best friend, Dolly Wells, is therefore a pleasant surprise. This six-episode comedy, which begins on Wednesday, takes place in hilltop mansions and on movie sets. What sets it apart from many other arch, self-mocking looks at Hollywood is that the central problem—the unspoken enmity between loving friends—could happen anywhere, at a university, in a congressional office, or in a beer bottling plant. The story is framed by the outsize absurdities of show business, but “Doll & Em” is a character study in miniature.
Em (Emily Mortimer) is at a premiere, posing on a red carpet alongside Bradley Cooper, when she gets a phone call from her childhood friend Doll (Dolly Wells), who is sobbing in her apartment in London after breaking up with her boyfriend. Em, who is in Los Angeles to shoot a film, invites Doll to visit and also work as her assistant.
Their first employer-employee transaction sets the mood for the inevitable strains and misunderstandings. Doll asks if getting coffee is part of the job, and Em assures her that, of course not, she doesn’t care at all, that her requests are “easy.” But she then instructs Doll that she likes her latte to be “very frothy” with three shots of espresso, served in a medium cup, not a large one.
The personal assistant bearing lattes has replaced the liveried chauffeur as a symbol of celebrity privilege. And, accordingly, the just-so coffee order has also become a bit of a cliché: It was a joke in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a comedy about the fashion industry, and in “The Proposal,” which was set in the publishing world. And it’s a common touchstone in comedies about Hollywood, where the passive-aggressive dynamic between movie star and assistant is especially fraught.
“Doll & Em” trades on many familiar show business stereotypes, but it also turns some conventions upside down: Usually, in Hollywood, it’s the boss and the employee who pretend to be friends; here, it’s the friends who pretend to be boss and employee.
Hollywood makes fun of itself because it has to: Everyone knows how unfairly and lavishly success is rewarded in that world. The perks of celebrity are so enviable and the letdowns so petty that failure doesn’t command much sympathy.
Also, people mock what they most fear, and even A-list stars can feel like outsiders—there’s always someone more famous, more talented, wealthier, better connected, or just younger.
At a party, Em confides to a matronly, older guest that she has not yet hit it off with her film’s young director. “Isn’t that such a relief at our age,” the woman says, adding that because directors no longer want to sleep with them (she uses a stronger word), “you can be the woman you always wanted to be, finally.”
Despite all her evident success—measured in flowers, fruit baskets, and swag bags—Em is insecure about her looks, her talent, and being 40. She wants Doll to take care of her, but quickly finds that Doll is the one who needs attention and somehow manages to command it.
Initially, Doll has a hard time fitting in. When she goes with Em to her first Hollywood pool party, she ends up stuck inside, babysitting for a child playing the young son of Susan Sarandon, who came without a nanny. When the boy falls and cries, Ms. Sarandon, playing herself, scolds and humiliates Doll. But later, over marijuana, they warm up, and suddenly it is Doll who is making friends and flirting with the host, a handsome English producer named Buddy, played by Jonathan Cake. (“Doll & Em” makes fun of the caste divisions of Hollywood, but also perpetuates them: Boldface movie stars like Ms. Sarandon, John Cusack and Chloë Sevigny play themselves; less famous actors play characters.)
When Doll sprains a foot fetching coffee, roles are reversed. It’s Em who has to ferry beverages, drive to the set, and fetch Doll’s crutches. It gets worse when a casting agent decides that Doll might be right for a part in a new movie. It’s a classic “All About Eve” twist, but on this series, which is shot in a grainy, cinéma vérité style, jealousy and competition are muted, expressed more in wounded silence than in words and mitigated by the women’s genuine bond and understandable grievances.
Doll complains that Em wants to be best friends, as long as she stays on top. Em complains that while she is in the middle of a critical career moment—shooting a Hollywood movie—Doll has made the experience entirely about Doll. They both have a point. The two heroines aren’t parodies so much as amusing exemplars of human frailty.
Show business is founded on the insecurity of actors who are at their best when they are not being themselves. The stars of “Doll & Em” have the confidence to be themselves—at their worst.
Correction: March 19, 2014
An earlier version of this review misidentified the character played by Jonathan Cake. He is a producer, not an actor.
“Doll & Em”
HBO, Wednesday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Produced by King Bee Productions and BSkyB. Created by Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells. Directed by Azazel Jacobs; written by Ms. Mortimer, Ms. Wells and Mr. Jacobs; Andrew Eaton and Lucy Lumsden, executive producers; Alessandro Nivola, producer; Ms. Mortimer, Ms. Wells and Mr. Jacobs, associate producers; Stacia Peters and Kevin Fitzmaurice Comer, co-producers.
WITH: Emily Mortimer (Em), Dolly Wells (Doll), Jonathan Cake (Buddy), Aaron Himelstein (Mike), Susan Sarandon (Herself), John Cusack (Himself), and Chloë Sevigny (Herself).March 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm #313139
Episode Title: “Episode 1”
Synopsis: After breaking up with her boyfriend, Doll travels to Los Angeles to be her best friend’s personal assistant.
Episode Title: “Episode 2”
Synopsis: Doll gets stuck baby-sitting at a Hollywood Hills party for Em’s new movie; a producer invites Doll into his hot tub.