HBO, Sundays 10:30/9:30 Central
Oct 02, 2013
Stephen Merchant's impact on American comedy television is so pervasive it's easy to forget that his presence on the small screen has been relatively scarce. Sure, he played Ricky Garvais' agent in HBO's Extras, but his role in creating Gervais' character, David Brent, in The Office established a new archetype of socially awkward but endearingly hopeless romantics. Our own version of Gervais and Merchant's pivotal workplace comedy spent nine years on the air and Brent's American counterpart, Michael Scott, is a television icon.
But Hello Ladies is Merchant's first lead role in an American sitcom, and it aims to refresh the cringe-worthy comic tension that he's woven into his work with Gervais. The best thing about Hello Ladies is seeing Merchant, with his wide-eyed and endless grin step front and center and flail onscreen with pain-inducing awkwardness. Inspired by his 2011 stand-up special of the same name, Hello Ladies follows a web-designer in L.A. named Stuart as he tries—miserably—to meet and impress women. "Hello, ladies," he says as he approaches strangers at a club. After a few sentences of misfired repertoire, the girls finally blow him off. "I don't have a phone," one of them says. "You don't have a phone?" Stuart balks, as the girls saunter off. Undeterred, he moves on to another pair. "Hello, ladies." And so goes the night.
Eventually, Stuart ends up at home chowing down on chicken wings, alone. He rents out a guest house to Jessica (Christine Woods), a pretty writer working on a web series. They banter back and forth, and Stuart lets his guard down revealing a harmlessly charismatic interior. The tension is thin, but recognizable as a future romantic crux for the series. The problem is, it's nothing we haven't seen already in The Office, or countless other romantic comedies. It's forgivable, though, as Hello Ladies doesn't give up on the self-deprecating scenery. Stuart goes out on the town with his best friend Wade (Nate Torrence), who is going through a bitter divorce, and a wheelchair-bound Kevis (Kevin Weisman), who Stuart outwardly despises—maybe because he serves not just as Kevis' wingman, but as his personal assistant, carrying him out of vehicles and up and down stairs.
What's most bewildering is that Merchant's character is actually quite charming on the surface—it's only when he's alone and we see his plans work their smarmy ways that his inflated ego becomes apparent. But he's tall, happy-go-lucky, and most to his credit, foreign. The fact that he's so constantly ignored when he's out on the prowl is almost difficult to accept. But being ignored gives Stuart a resolve to demand attention, which is where the richest humor lies.
In some respect, Hello Ladies is really just a male perspective on the successful, lovelorn, thirty-something-and-single trope that plays out in HBO's other hit comedy, Girls, and Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project. That's not to say Merchant doesn't have something to offer. He's proven time and again to have a spot-on wit and flawless delivery, and hopefully Hello Ladies lives up to his legacy.
Author rating: 6.5/10