Doll & Em, a six-part comedy premiering tonight on HBO, clearly is a labor of love for real-life best friends Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom) and Dolly Wells, the British actresses who co-created and co-wrote the project, as well as starring as “themselves.”
For the rest of us, the miniseries is pretty lightweight, although it explores an interesting question: What happens when someone who fits perfectly into one compartment of your life suddenly intrudes on another, very different part?
Tonight’s premiere opens with Emily attending the Independent Spirit Awards with Bradley Cooper, where she is interrupted by a frantic phone call from London. Dolly, her lifelong best friend, is going to pieces over the implosion of her latest relationship.
A supportive Emily immediately flies Dolly to Los Angeles, where Emily is about to begin work on a high-profile new movie project. Strictly to help her friend, Emily also proposes that Dolly take a temporary job as her assistant, to earn a little money and also be able to spend time with Emily on the set.
It’s a well-intentioned yet disastrous move, because it blurs the relationship lines between them. Dolly is Emily’s best pal and houseguest, yet she’s also her employee. Emily wants to give her grieving chum the attention she so desperately needs and expects, but she’s also about to tackle the most challenging role of her professional career, and she doesn’t need any distractions.
And Dolly is an epic distraction. She’s happy that her gig as Emily’s assistant allows her to tag along to a Hollywood party where Susan Sarandon is among the guests, yet becomes hurt and resentful when she is shunted into a room with a child guest while the A-listers socialize elsewhere. Emily also feels uncomfortable asking Dolly to perform even the most undemanding task, which, God knows, the self-absorbed Dolly would never think about tackling unbidden just because her friend needs help.
Worse, Dolly demonstrates an appalling lack of discretion, blurting out confidences and embarrassing Emily in front of her professional peers.
Over the course of its six half-hour episodes (HBO is airing two per week, over three weeks), Doll & Em charts how the chemistry between the two women starts to change as they try to adjust to their new personal “roles” in each other’s lives. This isn’t really a laugh-out-loud comedy, but rather a character study that arouses sighs and smiles of rueful recognition.
After being stuck in a shrill, poorly written role on HBO’s The Newsroom for two seasons, Mortimer is delightful and engaging playing a fairly sane, non-neurotic woman, although her Emily is subject to the insecurities any actress in Hollywood over 40 would be prone to. When the friendship between the two women ultimately fractures, it’s mostly Dolly’s fault, not because Emily hasn’t tried her best to be supportive.
Wells, who probably will be unfamiliar to most American viewers, has a tougher job of it, because ultimately Dolly is selfish and unsympathetic. This may, in fact, be this actress’s wheelhouse: The only other thing I’ve seen Wells in is the hilarious Britcom Spy (currently streaming on Hulu Plus), in which she starred as the sour, perpetually disapproving ex-wife of Darren Boyd’s title character.
In addition to Sarandon, Chloe Sevigny, John Cusack and Andy Garcia also turn up as themselves, and actor Allesandro Nivola (American Hustle), who is married to Mortimer, serves as producer of Doll & Em.