“Hello Ladies” TV Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Stephen Merchant steps out of Ricky Gervais’ shadow to star as Stuart, a somewhat delusional web designer looking to score with the ladies of Los Angeles. This HBO pilot never gets past first base, but there are just enough laugh-out-loud moments and inspired comedic performances to warrant a second date with Hello Ladies

Working with creators Stephen Merchant, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, casting director Allison Jones has put together a fantastically awkward ensemble of men-about-town. Merchant’s lanky 6’ 7” frame looks exceptionally ridiculous next to his significantly fleshier and recently separated best friend, Wade, a kind of discarded teddy bear played with warmth and sincerity by veteran commercial actor Nate Torrence. The duo is joined by a wheelchair bound, scene-stealing wingman named Kives (AliasKevin Wiesman), who is able to spew raunchy pickup lines to surprisingly great results. Watching these three “work their magic” at the club is so horrifying that it makes Jon Favreu in Swingers look like Barney Stinson. One particularly outrageous scene involving a convertible and one of those notoriously high Los Angeles curbs is a brilliant “epic fail” that alone makes the pilot worth watching.

For years, Merchant perfected his onscreen persona of gawky weirdo (The Office, Extras) while Ricky Gervais’ characters remained the heart and soul of the shows they created together. Now Merchant is asking himself to do much more as he progressing into the starring role as a lovable idiot. At first glance he has idiot covered, but lovable looks like it will be more of a challenge. Stuart comes across as a lecherous creep around woman and a jerk to his best mate. There’s no indication that he’s interested in anything but sex with his female targets and he’ll willingly cast aside his emotionally fragile friend when a potential date turns up. When flirting with a lady, Stuart asks where she is from. When she says she is from Los Angeles, Stuart bluntly and dismissively tells her, “I can’t do anything with that,” then proceeds to hit on her friend from Seattle. On the surface, this is an insightful comedic observation about dating in Los Angeles, but at the core it is a mean-spirited moment that defines a character I won’t necessarily want to cheer for.

Now, that’s not to say that a jerk can’t be the lead of a show. Larry David does it to great success in Curb Your Enthusiasm. However, Larry David gets away with being a jerk because his character is a prisoner of his own neurosis, whether he is at work, with his friends, or with women. Stuart on the other hand, seems rather well-adjusted outside of the dating scene, especially when he spends time at home with his tenant, Jessica (Christina Woods). Woods is immediately likeable as the aspiring actress / web series writer and Jessica’s laid-back friendship with her landlord shines a light on a tender, more normal side of Stuart. In what are probably the best scenes of the show, Stuart is completely natural around Jessica and surprisingly charming, so much so that it feels incongruous with the Stuart we know from the clubs.

The stories of losers trying to date hot girls have been extensively mined in the sitcom world. There is always room for more, but at the moment there is no guarantee that the show will be anything more than a medley of unsuccessfully deployed pick-up lines. If this series becomes a success it will be because it ventured beyond the stereotypical L.A. nightlife. Merchant will need to embrace the lovable and perhaps despondent aspects of his loser character while shying away from the more callous humor that so few can get away with. After all, this isn’t Breaking Bad. Sometimes it’s nice to cheer for the good guy.

 

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J.T. Saroufim Joseph Tony Saroufim is a screenwriter and reviewer of film and television. He has worked as a staff writer in Vh1’s creative lab and in 2011 he won the best writing award at the New York Television Festival. Most recently he produced and co-wrote D-TEC, a television pilot that won Samsung’s Second Screen Storytellers competition. His favorite TV shows include Soap, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Veep. His favorite film is Holiday, starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.