A new sitcom about re-entering the world of female friendship after a long relationship has some strong ideas, but is limited in heart
The breakup underlying Dollface, a new half-hour comedy from Hulu, seems implausibly cold and abrupt. One minute, Jules (Kat Dennings, now free of Two Broke Girls) is having lunch with her boyfriend; the next, despite the fact that, as she says, theyve spent every day for the past half-decade together, he doesnt love her any more. Then again, very little of Dollface at the outset makes sense; Jules is promptly picked up by a bus driver with the head of a cat and, in a dream sequence that regenerates each episode, the crazy cat lady visualizes Juless journey back to singledom as a literal bus ride through Rebound Town. The trip passes a crowd of guys gals clad in desperate palatability and football jerseys, who cry not unfounded yet well-trodden refrains like Im not like other girls, I love video games! and Anyone want wings? Anyone?
Jules is headed to the terminal for women returning from relationships only please reconnect with your girlfriends and proceed to emotional baggage claim, a re-entry into the world of platonic female friendships expired due to neglect. For five years, she has devoted all her attention to a boyfriend who still refers to her as Dollface while uninviting her from his sisters wedding. Despite the uneven strangeness of the cat bus ride, the concept a romantic relationship as limitation rather than asset to a character, the all-too-common frustration of a friend disappearing into a finite relationship is rich for exploration.
That contrast is a decent capsule for Dollface, executive-produced by Margot Robbie and her husband, Tom Ackerley, as a show: promising in outline, unevenly original, a showcase for entertaining actors limited by stubbornly vague characters. The shows scattershot insight into a certain slice of millennial female life late 20s, rich enough to afford homes and unrepeated outfits in LA, solidly in the knowledge economy peppered with generationally specific pop culture references (Kim Possible!) make for decent television for the target demographic. But Dollface can be frustratingly overdrawn, without the painful precision of PEN15 or radically empathetic heart of Shrill, both fellow Hulu shows similarly interrogating millennial womanhood.
Over the course of 10 half-hour episodes, Jules navigates female friendship in her late 20s outside a relationship that, were told, sidelined her for years. She reconnects with two college besties also living in LA, sharp careerist Madison (a winningly extra Brenda Song) and party-girl Stella (Pretty Little Liars Shay Mitchell); she attempts friendship with her stiff and image-obsessed co-workers at a Goop-like wellness company known as Woom (headed by barefoot, platitude-wielding Gwyneth figure played ably by Malin Akerman).
Dollface has some sharp ideas, particularly when the show targets the millennial pink Instagram aesthetic or wrings out of the elaborate dream sequences some truth of the internal anxiety over socializing, dating and refinding yourself. The send-up of girl stereotypes, often distilled to their most literal or extreme, can sometimes feel insightful; a Should She Go Out? game show of Fomo avoidance and the idea of brunch as a religious ritual poke at the elaborate performance that female friendship, or at least the public demonstration of it, can sometimes be. But there are also several jokes girls greeting each other with shrieks over their outfits, the unbreakable girl code of going to the bathroom in packs that seem like low-hanging fruit, the type of generalizations guys make off-handedly that have long been overdone.
Dennings, like the show at large, can be alternately charming or opaque; six episodes in, youre still not really sure why she was friends with Madison and Stella, or with her boyfriend, in the first place. To be fair, shes limited by writing that opts for well-timed bits over depth. Jules and her friends seem more like extended sketches consistently written female archetypes of homebody, partier, stickler, weirdo than a group who would believe in putting their friendship first. Thats really the heart of it: Dollface, despite its centering of female friendship, committed performances and genuinely good grasp of satirical wellness terminology, often doesnt seem to have much of one.
Which isnt to say that there arent promising ideas; theres a compelling show here grappling with the image of female friendship what is projected and expected versus the commitment and honesty that goes into it. But like any strong relationship, it takes more than just chemistry.
Dollface is now available on Hulu in the US with a UK date to be announced