TV Review: Doll & Em

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this review unless you have watched Doll & Em – episode one!

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It’s no surprise that HBO has already snapped up the American distribution rights for Doll & Em, Sky Living’s highly-rated new comedy, being as it shares the same low-fi-realism aesthetic, relationship-driven plot and slightly self-centred characters as the networks other hit comedies Girls and Looking. Though, whether it’s deserving of such exalted company remains to be seen.

The show’s simple premise is delivered in bright opening montage. Em – Emily Mortimer playing a sort-of version of herself – is a successful actress strutting the red carpet in LA with Bradley Cooper (minus the American Hustle Jeri curls, unfortunately), only to be interrupted by her tearful best friend who has been left devastated by nasty break-up. And before we know it, Doll has touched down in LA to slosh about drinking red wine on Em’s sofa. Oh, and to work as her personal assistant, because friends working together always goes well. But from this simple set-up emerges a thoughtful portrayal of female friendship, albeit one that needs to find its teeth.

What works so well here is how co-writers Mortimer and Dolly Wells observe and send-up the intricacies of female friendship, playing-on on their characters co-dependent need for compassion, understanding and positive reinforcement. Em can always be relied upon to deliver a well-timed “you’re so brilliant” to lift the incredibly gauche Doll, who spends most of the episode careening from one calamity to the other. This is where Mortimer and Wells’ real-life friendship comes in handy. They’ve been friends since their early childhood and shared a flat as jobbing actresses during the mid-90s, and their effortless compatibility adds some much needed authenticity to what is a purely relationship-driven comedy.

All that’s missing is a little more humour and a little less-clingy cuddling over ice cream. It’s clear that the humour should be derived from the awkward moments that occur when the differences in status between Doll and Em become all too apparent. The best scene of this opening episode comes when Em is in her trailer trying to prepare for a scene and Doll insists on teaching her how to cry on cue (it involves a horrific story about the death of her father), wonderfully exemplifying just how different these two characters really are.

Unfortunately, scenes likes this are all too infrequent meaning the story often feels a little flat. Things should step-up a notch next week, however, when the two find themselves competing for the attentions of a man neither of them actually want. Until then, this episode has laid the ground work for a keenly observed comedy about modern female friendship that could yet be deserving of its place alongside HBO bedfellows Girls and Looking.

Click here to watch the trailer for Doll & Em

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