• Mischa Richter
  • Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer

The closer we are to people, the weirder and more complicated those relationships tend to be. I figure good friendships are made when the reward increases in tandem with the weirdness. Seriously, if you’re close to someone and everything is smooth sailing, maybe you’re not as close as you think you are. For Dolly and Emily—that’s Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer, the real-life best friends playing fictionalized versions of themselves on HBO’s new Doll & Em—that weirdness is a subtle and ongoing competition. If we’re keeping score as outsiders, it’s safe to say Em is enjoying a landslide victory.

The show’s version of Emily Mortimer has just landed the lead in a big Hollywood movie. She’s married and has a lovely Mediterranean home with a pool in California, as well as a home in New York. And on top of her cleaning and hair and makeup people, she has a brand-new personal assistant.

Dolly, on the other hand, is the personal assistant.

Fresh from a breakup, she travels from England to LA to stay with Em, her best friend since childhood. Single and presumably unemployed, Dolly takes Emily up on her offer of a job. “The point of you being here is just you being here,” Emily tells Dolly. “I don’t care about any of this other stuff.” This is after she’s made sure Dolly knows that she likes her latte extrafrothy, with three shots of espresso, and served in a medium cup.

Dolly has to learn how to drive a car on the right side of the road, and she also has to learn how to navigate her friendship’s new dynamic. Even if it isn’t substantial, fame and the nature of the business have changed Emily. She might have a big lead role, but at the whopping age of 40, Emily is also getting old by Hollywood standards. And there’s some indication (OK, a lot of indication in episode two) that she’s insecure.

There’s a great scene in the first episode in which two ecstatic middle-aged women approach Emily on the street for pictures and hugs. One of them tells her, “You and Jennifer Garner are the only women I’m OK with my husband calling hot, because you aaaaaaaaaare.” But there’s something between the lines that sort of stings: “You’re attractive—but in a way that I don’t find threatening.” In another scene, a much older costume woman starts a conversation with Em by saying, “At our age . . . ” Meanwhile, Dolly seems pretty comfortable in her skin.

So the one who appears to have it all turns out to be the pitiable one. But that sounds simplistic and sort of boring, and Doll & Em isn’t simplistic or boring—it’s warm and funny and successfully blurs reality because its stars actually love one another and probably have a real-life complicated relationship (in a good way). The employer-employee relationship is for sure going to take a toll on both of the women, but it’s fun to watch, because we’re pretty certain their friendship can survive it.

Doll & Em, HBO, 10 PM Wednesdays