Tag Archives: The Newsroom

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.

New on Blu-ray: ‘The Newsroom: The Complete First Season’

Aaron Sorkin won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay to The Social Network, the 2010 movie hit about the founding of Facebook, yet it’s the medium of television that seems to captivate him most. In addition to The Farnsworth Invention, a play that ran on Broadway for just 104 performances in 2007-08, Sorkin has written three high-profile TV shows revolving around the world of television. First came the critically acclaimed ABC sitcom Sports Night (1998-2000), which still sparkles a decade and a half later (you can stream all episodes from both seasons on Hulu Plus).
After taking time off from the topic to write and produce the Emmy magnet/political drama The West Wing, Sorkin returned to television as a backdrop for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, set behind the scenes of a Saturday Night Live-type comedy series. Unfortunately, that show never found its creative footing, partly because while Sorkin can write some very funny scenes, the sketch-comedy format seemed to elude him altogether, and Studio 60 limped through a single season (2006-07).
His most recent series return, The Newsroom – released today on Blu-ray and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment – falls somewhere between the artistic success of Sports Night and the painful belly flop of Studio 60.
Set behind the scenes at the fictional Atlantis Cable Network (ACN) channel, the dramedy follows anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his team as they embark on a quixotic attempt to raise the level of American journalism – and, indeed, public discourse in general – by taking the high road in its News Night newscast without allowing ratings to drive content. Will is encouraged to this end by his boss, ACN news division president Charlie Skinner (Law & Order veteran Sam Waterston), who has taken the extraordinarily risky step of hiring a new producer for the show: MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), with whom Will was romantically involved four years ago until she cheated on him with a former lover.
The Newsroom polarized TV critics during its first season, primarily on two fronts. First, even if you happen to share Sorkin’s progressive politics (as, full disclosure, I do), it’s easy to see why viewers of other persuasions might be turned off by the writer’s tendency here to indulge in sermonizing. On a related note, Sorkin made the creative choice to build each episode around an actual news event from the recent past – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the assassination of Osama bin Laden – which allows his characters almost preternaturally always to make the right choices in deciding how to handle a story.
And while Sorkin is by no means a misogynist, he took flak about how he wrote for some of the women on the show. In one scene, a peripheral female character bursts into the newsroom (on the 25th floor of a high-security building, mind you), screaming because her boyfriend, a staff member, stood her up for their Valentine’s Day date. Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), a News Night associate producer, at one point confides to a colleague that she got in trouble for signing a formal bereavement message with “LOL,” explaining that she thought it stood for “lots of love.” Seriously? A 20-something woman working in a Manhattan communications company doesn’t know what “LOL” means?
Even more irritatingly, other characters keep describing MacKenzie McHale as one of the most fearless producers on the planet, who has kept a calm head in the riskiest of combat zones, yet she keeps collapsing into a whining puddle in front of her staff over the failure of her relationship with Will – which ended, and I really think this bears repeating, four years ago. I know we’re being prompted to pull for these two erstwhile lovebirds to get back together, but it would be easier to do that if MacKenzie weren’t such a basket case from time to time.
Spending time with this new Blu-ray release, however, reminded me that, for its occasional flaws, The Newsroom still has so much going for it. For one thing, when Sorkin steps down from the pulpit, he is able to make words breakdance, somersault, cartwheel and generally thrill us like very few other writers these days. He writes punchlines that deftly and irreverently pull the rug out from under a scene that appears to be going for a tearjerker moment, and lengthy monologues that are grand opera arias without the music. It’s easy to understand why the cast of The Newsroom is populated almost entirely with theater veterans who understand Sorkin’s heightened style of writing and are able to catch the wave of his language and ride it to a thrilling climax in scene after scene.
Beyond that, The Newsroom is packed with some absolutely fantastic performances. Daniels has the toughest job as Will, our resident Man of La Mancha (a musical that keeps turning up during season one), but this underrated actor does a brilliant job of showing us the insecurity under Will’s bravado, which only makes his (probably doomed) quest that much more touching. Even more revelatory is Waterston – if you know him only from his work as poker-faced Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy on the long-running Law & Order, you are probably going to be stunned by his hilarious work here as Charlie, who frequently is halfway in the bag from the bottles he keeps stashed in his desk. John Gallagher Jr., who won a Tony Award for his shattering performance in the Broadway musical Spring Awakening, makes a touching and endearing TV series debut as News Night producer Jim Harper, who is secretly carrying a torch for Maggie, and Olivia Munn, former “senior Asian correspondent” on The Daily Show With John Stewart, sneaks up on you with her smart performance as brilliant yet romantically hapless economist Sloan Sabbith. In a recurring role that plays against her public image, Jane Fonda is spectacular as Leona Lansing, the CEO of ACN’s parent company who is a veteran publisher yet needs the support of right-wing zillionaires for business reasons.
Technically, the 6-disc Blu-ray/DVD set is impeccable, with extras that include a “Mission Control” feature exploring the mind-boggling set for the show, as well as a genial roundtable with Sorkin, Daniels, Waterston and Mortimer and two producers reflecting on season one and five audio commentaries including most of the principals (although not, sadly, Gallagher) and lead producers. Be sure to listen to the commentary for episode 10, the season one finale, in which Sorkin can’t help dropping a few spoilers for season two (three words: Sloan and Don).
From left, John Gallagher Jr. and Thomas Sadoski as, respectively, Jim and Don, romantic rivals for Maggie