Doll & Em, the miniseries that begins on HBO tomorrow, starts out as an unnecessary parody of Hollywood, but morphs into a sweet tale of female friendship. It's just a question of whether it's worth sticking around.
The series, which will air six episodes over the course of three nights, is a passion project from Emily Mortimer (of The Newsroom fame) and her friend Dolly Wells, an actress who has primarily worked in Britain. The concept is simple: Mortimer plays Emily (Em), a movie star who brings her best friend Dolly (Doll) out to Los Angeles to be her assistant. Em thinks she's doing Doll, who just hit rock bottom after a breakup, a favor, Doll, however, quickly becomes resentful of Em's Hollywood behavior.
Right off the bat, the show has hints of Ricky Gervais' Extras, and Mortimer and Wells, along with director and co-writer Azazel Jacobs, are employing a light brand of Gervais's trademark cringeworthy humor. But while Extras featured major stars playing douchebag versions of themselves—Gervais played a character called Andy Millman, but people like Daniel Radcliffe and Kate Winslet made cameos—Doll & Em has Emily Mortimer playing a version of herself as something of a jerk. Mortimer, while a very talent actress, has no public image to play upon, like, say, Matt LeBlanc on Episodes, another show satirizing Hollywood. So Emily Mortimer playing sort-of Emily Mortimer as a semi-demanding showbiz type has no weight to it. It would make more sense for Mortimer to play a completely different character. Doll is ultimately the more interesting character since we have no, however faint, conception of Dolly Wells.
The Hollywood satire, which Doll & Em over-relies on in its early episodes, doesn't feel particularly original or pointed. Em has a very specific coffee request. Susan Sarandon plays herself as an overprotective mother who also likes to smoke pot. Chloe Sevigny is, well, Chloe Sevigny.
But the show starts to get more interesting around the third episode when it inserts a little bit of All About Eve—an admitted influence—into the plot. The tables turn and Dolly becomes the darling on the set of Emily's latest movie, a horrible sounding "female Godfather." Though the women put on a good face for the outside world, the seams of their friendship are coming apart. Em, who got herself into this mess by making the silly decision to hire a friend, becomes the wronged party, and Doll the obliviously successful one. Nothing that happens in the show is particularly surprising, but the familiarity Mortimer and Wells possess as real-life fans make the emotional impact of their character's disintegration more strongly felt.
When the characters meet up in England in the final episode, having not spoken since their rift, their ultimate reunion (as if you didn't see that coming) is actually touching. You only wish you had spent more time with these women away from the specter of show biz.