When Dollface first premiered in a pre-pandemic world in 2019, the prevailing consensus among critics seemed to hinge on the show’s shallow critique of feminism and flat portrayal of modern womanhood. A lack of story conflict, both external and internal, produces an underwhelming return after a two-year hiatus.
Season 2 of Dollface begins with a very lightweight opening episode where nothing really happens except showing how strong the female friendships have become since the crew picks Stella up from LAX—a true indication someone cares in Los Angeles.
It quickly becomes clear the focus of this season is about the dreaded thirtieth birthday for Jules (Kat Dennings) and Madison (Brenda Song), a relatively dull premise in comparison to what we saw in Season 1: Jules’ existential and uncertain venture into millennial female friendships set against a zany Los Angeles populated by celebrity magicians and woo-woo work retreats. The fantasy sequences marked by millennial pink still deliver cute visual puns that warm the viewer though.
For better or for worse, Season 2 more immediately grounds us in reality as the show doesn’t pass over the pandemic’s existence, including a version of quarantine that makes the experience look enviably like a middle school sleepover.
It is worth noting there’s a handful of scenes where characters, namely Jules and Izzy (Esther Povitsky), deal with life-changing circumstances without scene partners. One memorable example includes Izzy breaking up with her boyfriend while her back has the door pressed closed on him as she explains how she feels unworthy. A pivotal character moment would have been better aided by an actual scene partner. Something similar occurs when Jules gets the predictable call that her dream job did not decide to hire her. I’ll mark those production choices down to covid-related precautions and restrictions, and move on.
While Season 1 quickly found its focus with Jules’ ambivalent desire to rebuild female friendships, Season 2 offers less significant emotional stakes and instead takes on the tone of a web series for the first half of the season. The half-hour episodes began to feel like fifteen minutes without the madcap storylines. Those endearing idiosyncratic signatures of Dollface’s Season 1 only come to form in “Miss Codependent” and the fairytale-ish episode “Princess Charming,” a weak successor to Season 1’s fantastic The Wizard of Oz-colored “Feminist.”
A more substantial beat occurs with Stella (Shay Mitchell) deciding to renovate a bar after an intimate self-disclosure of problems between Stella and Lilly Singh’s Liv, the bar owner (Side note: do you think Shay Mitchell and Lilly Singh discussed YouTube and Canadian things in between scenes?). Liv was there to stay for most of the season, considering the couple’s hookup could be spotted a mile before it occurred due to Mitchell being capable of having some sort of simmering chemistry with nearly everyone. I was pleasantly surprised by Singh’s addition since most of the supporting love interests remained to be white guys that blended together, if not for a few of their defining characteristics, like an Australian accent.
While I had not forgotten about Matthew Gray Gubler’s patented skinny boy charm, I definitely forgot over the two years since Dollface last aired why exactly Wes and Jules do not make it the first time around? He’s in the middle of breaking up with a girlfriend that he seemed to have during Season 1’s flirtationship with Jules. So while he seemed like the front runner for reformed “guy’s girl” Jules, his lack of transparency and weird half-relationships with the female characters give me the ick.
Shay Mitchell continued giving us what we want by playing slightly different offshoots of her celebrity—part effortlessly cool but authentically vulnerable, part bro-y girl boss—on TV. In this case, Mitchell’s third LGBTQ role with Stella (after her roles as a lesbian Pretty Little Liar’s Emily and You’s Peach) gives the character more heart as she comes to care for Liv and Bruno. Building off of her wild child mom’s appearance last season, Stella holds anxieties about inadvertently abandoning girlfriend Liv’s son Bruno if the twosome does not work out.
Meanwhile, Brenda Song’s Type A Madison shines in blunt but accurate assessments of Jules and Stella’s questionable relationship choices. Choosing to keep Madison out of a romantic relationship and having the character attempt to get her PR business off the ground is the right move until a side friendship with Ruby (Corinne Foxx) threatens Jules and Madison’s BFFness in more low-level stakes.
Episode 3, titled “Boss Lady,” picks up the pace with Madison and the gang’s attempt to win over an OnlyFans star terribly named Lotus Dragon Bebe (yes, it’s ironic and self-aware—still terrible though) through a dance class. There’s a ton to explore with overachiever Madison taking on sexually adventurous “Bebe” as a client, but the series never acts on it.
The cartoon character of Izzy gets sketched out a little more with her boyfriend from the male-version of Woöm called Saqq. While the relationship does not capitalize on the quirkiness that characterized Izzy, it provides ample opportunity for Povitsky to showcase her character’s childlike moodiness and puts Izzy at the somewhat flimsy emotional center of several episodes.
The last episode allows the women to make large strides in their character development with Izzy, in particular, deciding she is enough for her handsome, supposedly out of her league boyfriend in one scene that is bound to connect with the show’s target audience.
In a full-circle moment, the travel agent in the final episode is played by none other than the animated Cat Lady’s actress Beth Grant. Despite these decorative bookends, the opener and the final episode make weak connections. In contrasting and quick fashion, Jules and Madison make realizations about their natures—Jules needs to be less complacent about what she wants and Madison needs to learn to live without an itinerary. These revelations could have been made and tackled throughout the season to more exciting ends.
Jules’ attempt to go after a dream more in line with her true desires manifests from nowhere. The season would have benefited from this risk much earlier on and given us a refreshing change of scenery from the offices of Woöm. Instead, wafer-thin storylines culminate in a random scene in Stella and Liv’s new bar where the cast sways shoulder-to-shoulder to Phantogram. Izzy’s in a fantastic place with her boyfriend and is set to become Celeste’s new right hand. Madison somehow becomes friends with Ruby again and Jules suddenly has a new boyfriend whose interactions were extremely easy-breezy flirting. Out of everyone, it seems only post-breakup bar owner Stella has some significant internal reckoning ahead of her.
On the surface, Dollface continues to usher in multiple leads of color, dimensional LGBTQ representation, and an inclination towards addressing millennial women’s anxieties that I want to get behind. But the storylines lack the originality deserving of the leads and fail to offer bigger stakes until five or six episodes in. In a show where the women could become their own worst enemy as millennial women are apt to do, the self-sabotage or self-delusion could have been amped up more.
To be honest, I am gratified that Jules and Madison did not end up on a beach in Greece, or anywhere ‘gram-worthy to yield some greater significance to the big three-oh. But Season 2 emotionally lands exactly the same as Season 1—with the women grateful/awed/empowered by their collective bond in the final scene. And while that narrative choice is not particularly unsatisfying, the season’s indie pop-heavy soundtrack may rate as more memorable than the closing episode. While Dollface Season 2 provides frothy fare for a weekend binge, greater emotional costs for Jules, Madison, and Stella would have also been welcome.