There’s a wave of media focused on women in their late 20s and early 30s just living their lives, sometimes their best lives and sometimes their worst. The goal of these series is to be deeply relatable to an audience that has mostly only had reality television and seeing actors their age playing teenagers. Sometimes this media hits the mark solidly and other times it lands somewhere in a series of memes pretending to be a human land. But, movies like Someone Great and shows like Fleabag and Shrill show that there’s still plenty of growing up to do after people finish college.
The latest member of this budding genre is Dollface, a Hulu Original starring Kat Dennings as Jules, who is recently single after a 5 year relationship as she realizes that she became so involved with her man, Jeremy (Connor Hines), that she no longer has any female friends. Jules manages to reconnect with her friends from college, career oriented Madison (Brenda Song) and It-Girl Stella (Shay Mitchell), despite having dropped them out of nowhere to focus on her man, and rounds out the group with her coworker Izzy (Esther Povitsky) and learns how to “be a girl” again.
Dollface season one starts off rocky with the breakup and the shows attempt at being “quirky” with Jules boarding a bus full of recently broken up with girls and driven by an old cat lady. They pass a field of girls proclaiming their love of sports and video games and how they’re “not like other girls” as if girls only like sports and video games to draw a man? It gives the impression that the show is created by people who hate women and also that it really wants to live up to some Fleabag meets Lizzie McGuire comp. Luckily things smooth out once Jules reunites with Madison and Stella, a very Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen duo, and the show gets into the messiness of relearning to live life for yourself instead of someone else.
There are some good nuggets in Dollface and a lot of potential but it makes the fatal flaw of centering relationships with men even when it’s actively trying not to. Madison has an affair with a married but definitely on his way to divorce (so he claims) older man and Jules just can’t escape Jeremy because of course when your lives are entwined for so long it takes time to detangle.
When all the girls are together the shenanigans are fun and relatable but when they split off and we get into Jules’ head it falls flat. The quirky attempts (for we do see a lot more of the cat lady) are just irritating and it’s hard to fully sympathize with her. A more interesting show would’ve been one centering Brenda Song’s Madison as she navigates dealing with her two best friends who she can’t quit, even when one of them quit her, her career and her relationship. The centering of Jules just puts so much emphasis on the men in women’s lives even as she’s learning to reconnect with women. Even the name centers her man, a hated nickname that he used for her and while it’s satisfying when Jules finally snaps demands he not call her that anymore.
Dollface season one really shines is with Povitsky’s Izzy. She’s a Phoebe type character who stays true to herself (even as part of her arc is a long con involving her real name in order to fit in with a clique at work) and is an absolute delight. There is no pretense of being cool and it’s incredibly refreshing to watch. Each of the girls has something deeply relatable of course. Madison struggles with anxiety and a need to control things. Stella wants to be seen as more than just a party girl. And Jules does want to be there more for her friends even as she finds it hard to.
The show also has some good commentary and moments on feminism and race. There’s a great moment where in a meeting about a campaign (Izzy and Jules work for a Goop type company) with the slogan “white power” Izzy suggests the only brown woman in the room should take point on fixing it and she stares right at Izzy and simply asks “why?” Moments where the show is wonderfully self-aware are mixed in with moments where despite commentary that Jules barely makes entry level salary she can quickly and easily find an affordable place to live by herself in LA make the show that much more frustrating.
Still, when all the girls come together to support each other despite everything a viewer can’t help but feel the time spent with them is worth it. Maintaining friendships is hard as people grow up and grow apart becoming more involved with their careers and relationships and it’s really great seeing the closeness.
Dollface season one is streaming exclusively on Hulu.
Rating: 6/10 cats