TV Review: ‘Doll & Em’

doll and em TV Review HBO

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 Cake

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  1. Regina brundle says:

    I really enjoyed the start of Doll and Em as it was supposedly different from other shows, looking at the relationships people have on a more intimate level and how they can become deconstructed given the right environment.
    But the storyline starting off about two people whose lives had drifted into different paths , come together and are given the perfect gift to develop that relationship. But that does not happen nor do the actresses or storyline try to delve into how one person worked hard to become someone famous and has earned her position outright of noterighty whilst the latter did not and the best she could do was become a waitress . There is no information as to why they are the way they are.
    And then oddly they still have each others numbers and the one with no career prospects is whisked to paradise by the kindness of the other.
    But then it is unbelievable that someone who is helped(doll) , would come all that way just to cause her friend (em) disruption in her work and malice.
    And be oblivious to what she is doing.
    If anything what I personally observed was Doll being nasty on every corner. She is living with her friend. She is given a job and money from her friend, a roof and facilities. Chances to meet people we would only dream to and she treats some like they are no body. (andy Garcia) but even after all that, it shows that DOLL considers herself better than everyone and always back stabbing Em.
    To some maybe that may be seen as her being insecure but in reality, if you help someone and they crap on you, you don’t just stand there and use a wet wipe and say thanks.
    The penultimate episode showed a greedy and self centred person who just wanted to help herself to her friends goodies and her job.
    But the final episode was the worst episode ever. It was as though we had warped into an alternate reality, or atleast one for EMily Mortimer . For gods sake, she is famous. How is it that all the people she met never knew her.
    Doll may have talent but after all she did to EM, its surprising that she would forget everything . There was a lot of promise in this but the promise was not kept.

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