Tag Archives: Spy

HBO’s Doll & Em is smart but lightweight

'Doll & Em' premieres tonight on HBO.

Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer (from left) co-created, co-wrote and star in ‘Doll & Em,’ a six-part miniseries premiering tonight on HBO.

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.
Chloe Sevigny (right) guest stars with Emily Mortimer in 'Doll & Em,' premiering tonight on HBO.

Chloe Sevigny (right) guest stars with Emily Mortimer in ‘Doll & Em,’ premiering tonight on HBO.

Douglas Adams lite, done (mostly) right

dirk dvd
The degree to which Douglas Adams fans enjoy Dirk Gently, currently making its U.S. debut on DVD via Acorn Video, is likely to be directly related to how well they manage their expectations. The two-disc set includes all four one-hour episodes of the short-lived UK series, which stars Stephen Mangan from Showtime’s Episodes as the title character, a “holistic detective” whose unconventional investigatory style is based, as he explains it, on “an almost unswerving belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” Following that logic, Dirk believes he can approach a case from virtually any starting point, since it inevitably will lead him to the solution for which he is searching – which explains why, in the series pilot, he starts out searching for an old lady’s missing cat and gets entangled in a double murder case.
Adams wrote two Gently novels, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and was working on a third (The Salmon of Doubt) when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001 at age 49. Since these books, like his earlier best-seller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, deal with such complex ideas and improbable, largely unfilmable plot bedazzlements, screenwriter Howard Overman sensibly opted to lift certain characters and situations from the Gently novels and build a similarly themed series around them.
For the most part, it works. Mangan has a tendency to mug too much, especially when the writing gets a little thin, as it does from time to time in this series, but mostly he makes a genial enough Gently (it helps that Dirk drives most of the people around him insane with his self-absorption, so we’re allowed to find him irritating, too). The smartest bit of casting finds rising British comedy star Darren Boyd (Spy) as Dirk’s hapless assistant/partner Richard MacDuff, the frequent target of the sleuth’s most outlandish demands. Helen Baxendale, who played Ross’s English fiancée Emily in several episodes of Friends, turns up here as Richard’s girlfriend, Susan, while Jason Watkins, the first-season villain in BBC America’s original UK version of Being Human, recurs as Detective Inspector Gilks, who regards Gently with barely concealed contempt.
In sum, Dirk Gently is likely to appeal to Adams fans, as long as they don’t expect all of the author’s incomparable wit, charm and originality to make the transfer to this new medium. You have to go back to the books themselves to fully understand why Adams’ sudden death at such an obscenely early age left his admirers feeling so bereft. But Dirk Gently does an admirable job of capturing the underlying spirit of Adams’ books.
Also, if you want to see more of Darren Boyd – and really, you should – Hulu Plus has the entire two-season run of Spy (which currently is being adapted for American television) available for streaming.