Hollywood Hills mined for laughs

Serious, wordy, rapid-fire banter has defined screenwriter and producer Aaron Sorkin’s output from The West Wing to The Social Network – so much so that many viewers unacquainted with HBO series The Newsroom could identify its creator within minutes.

One of the brightest lights of the series – which screens locally on Foxtel’s Showcase – has been accomplished film actress Emily Mortimer. As MacKenzie McHale, she’s commanding, confident and razor-sharp; seemingly born for a Sorkin role.

The English actress’ rising Hollywood status makes her latest project appear all the more from left field. Doll & Em is a six-episode, semi-improvised UK comedy, created and co-written by Mortimer and best friend Dolly Wells, picked up by HBO before it even aired at home.

As the name suggests, Wells and Mortimer play exaggerated versions of themselves living with the latter’s TV success. Celebrities mining their own lives for laughs are nothing new, of course – see Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) and the A-listers that happily parodied their public personas in Extras. Doll & Em differs in that it’s less celebrity spoof and more a warts-and-all exploration of how friendships can be impacted by success and ambition. It’s also very, very funny.

How the pair wind up sharing Mortimer’s Hollywood Hills home is explained early. Wells – a comic actress with credits including The IT Crowd and Peep Show – is struggling with a relationship break-up in London, and invited to work for her pal in Los Angeles. Doll becomes Em’s assistant, quickly placing a strain on their long-standing friendship. Overnight, she must learn to navigate LA’s roads to ferry her friend to and from work and have Em’s coffee order – frothy latte, three shots, medium-sized cup – down pat.

Unsurprisingly, Mortimer is oblivious to her friend’s disillusion, trapped in a self-indulgent world of showbiz parties and over-enthusiastic fans (“can I get a picture of us hugging?” one asks).

Later in the series, when Wells experiences her own successes, the tension between the pair grows – albeit concealed by plastered-on smiles and backhanded compliments.

While there are regular Hollywood references, plus cameos by the likes of John Cusack and Susan Sarandon, the show’s gentle humour is driven by the chemistry between the leads.

The Newsroom was recently renewed for a third and final season. The upside? Mortimer will have more time for this extremely promising comedy.

Doll & Em will air later this year.

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