One often-roasted TV trope here in the TV Guide offices is female friendship that devolves into catty fights between besties over the same guy or the same goal or the same shoes, turning what should be wholesome camaraderie into shrieking name-calling and shattered wine glasses. In recent years, roles for women and writing for female characters have gotten much better, but even with the darling Playing House or the progressive The Bold Type or the through-thick-and-thin Broad City, honest female friendship still doesn’t get its due on TV.
Enter Hulu’s Dollface, which is a hundred times over specifically about the value of young women being besties, but inadvertently makes female friendship look like a nightmare. The comedy stars Kat Dennings as Jules, who we meet mid-brunch as she’s getting unsympathetically dumped by her boyfriend of half-a-decade Jeremy (Connor Hines). Jules is one of those co-dependent sponges — you know who I’m talking about — someone who enters a relationship, abandons their friends, and disappears so far into their partner that they may as well have been erased from existence. Now alone and with no identity of her own, Jules seeks to reconnect with her pre-Jeremy friends, who have all moved on with their lives and aren’t keen on reconnecting their BFF pendants with someone who ditched them for a dude.
It’s a good setup for a show, and if done right, it could be culturally significant. But after 10 episodes of Dollface forcing Jules and her best friend Madison (Brenda Song) to give friendship another shot, you’ll be rooting for them to unfollow each other on Instagram or whatever people do these days when they’re over someone. The core dynamic between Madison and Jules seems to be Madison criticizing Jules’ decisions and telling her how to live her life, and then getting mad at Jules when she finally finds her spine and tries to give Madison advice or an honest opinion.
Dollface spends all of its time showing the hardships they face as they try to rebuild their friendship, but without ever defining what their friendship was in the first place (perhaps their friendship is based on taking pictures together if the montages are any indication); there are no moments of them being good friends except for an occasional apology and a declaration of, “We’re friends again!” It’s a story about friends who, as far as we can tell, should absolutely not be friends, and not in an incisive or subversive way like You’re the Worst redefining romantic comedy by putting two selfish disasters together.
There are two other friends in this circle: Shay Mitchell as the galavanting and unemployed Stella and Esther Povitsky as the pushover tryhard Izzy. Stella and Izzy literally take a backseat to Madison in Jules’ life, but they seem like a better fit for Jules’ friendship — even though they’re also prone to meddling in her life and thinking they know what’s best for her. I’m not quite sure why any of these people are friends with each other with all the judging going on. Individually, these characters work fine, but together, they’re a headache, and that’s a problem when the whole point of the show is proving that girl squads — their words, not mine — can have each other’s backs no matter what and men don’t define them. (There’s no issue with the performances here; Dennings and Povitsky are particularly great, but the stars are saddled with weak characters.)
Dollface‘s loudest calling card will be its surreal fantasy sequences that realize metaphor into kooky, trippy scenarios. If you’ve seen the vastly underrated Man Seeking Woman, you’ll know what I’m talking about, except Dollface doesn’t exhibit the same type of commitment to that wonderful lunacy. For example, when Jules is trying to decide whether to go out, she’s transported to a Let’s Make a Deal-like game show, where she can choose doors that represent different outcomes (behind Door 2 is FOMO, for real), or when she’s accused of being a killjoy, she’s suddenly in a courtroom on trial for murdering the buzz. There’s also a cat lady (voiced by Beth Grant) who is literally a large cat in a dress who, uhhh, honestly, I don’t know what she does, but she’s around a lot to dispense advice, possibly representing Jules’ future, I guess. The creativity is there, but the depth is lacking, and the frequent hyperreality (episodes average two of these sequences) comes and goes without ever really saying anything.
And that’s Dollface‘s biggest shortcoming. It raises its hand as if it has something to say on a bunch of relatable topics — friendship, post-breakup blues, feminism — but then just lists the topics. If it went even an inch deeper on any of these subjects, it might have something worth listening to. Unfortunately, it’s as thin as the supposed friendship between Jules and Madison.
TV Guide Rating: 2/5
Dollface premieres Friday, Nov. 15 on Hulu.