The title Hello Ladies should conjure images of a smooth talking lothario on the prowl. Instead we are presented with an inept would be lothario bumbling about Los Angeles night spots. Hello Ladies is a new solo project from Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais’ partner-in-crime. Merchant not only serves as one of the show’s creators, but also portrays the lead character Stuart Pritchard. Supporting him in this creative endeavour are Lee Eisenburg and Gene Stupnitsky known for their work on the U.S. version of The Office. Individuals hoping Merchant would radically deviate from previous projects will be left unsatisfied. However this reviewer believes Hello Ladies could mature into something interesting down the line.
One of the hallmarks of Merchant’s previous shows is his ability to create beloved or polarizing characters/relationships. Hello Ladies maintains this tradition. Stuart is the linchpin of the series however the character does very little to earn sympathizers. He is overbearing, shallow, and a bit of an opportunist. Stuart manipulates his so-called best friend Wade (Nate Torrence) as the need arises. In the episode’s opening scene Stuart attempts to pick-up two women but blames his failure on Wade. Stuart later uses Wade in a botched attempt at impressing a young would be starlet. The episode’s climax involves Stuart spilling a round of drinks onto the wannabe actress and her friends.
Throughout the episode Wade solidifies himself as the dopy best friend, but displays less gumption than a jellyfish. Wade is consumed with grief over the failure of his marriage; he is unwilling to react when Stuart is uncivil towards his daughter. In the final minutes of the episode Stuart manages to redeem himself (and by extension Wade) by putting a drunk Wade to bed. Hopefully future episodes will enable Wade to develop into a more rounded character, and provide a reasonable explanation to justify his unwavering devotion to Stuart.
Stuart’s asexual relationship with his tenant Jessica (Christine Woods) is the episode’s strongest pairing. This is not a typical landlord/tenant relationship. Jessica does not cower before Stuart; she teases him mercilessly about his shortcomings. During their initial scene Jessica emasculates Stuart by displaying her physical superiority. In between dispensing advice and late night sexual encounters, Jessica is busy developing her web series. Though both characters are self-absorbed, there is a degree of mutual acceptance and a genuine level of comfort around each other.
Kives (Alias’ Kevin Weisman) plays Stuart’s frenemy and antithesis. Merchant’s height allows Stuart to tower over other individuals; Weisman’s character is wheelchair bound but displays a level of confidence that Stuart lacks. Kives takes delight in hurling derogatory comments into conversations. He represents something Stuart secretly yearns to become, an unfiltered male who is able to seduce women (or at least the intoxicated ones). One of the funniest moments features Kives manipulating Stuart into carrying him to a woman’s high rise apartment. For individuals familiar with Weisman, playing Kives is a distinct change of pace. The actor typically portrays a loveable nerd.
Hello Ladies’ pilot did not provide any exceptionally funny moments. However it establishes character dynamics (Jessica and Stuart or Kives and Stuart) that warrant further examination. Merchant also manages to offer Stuart a nugget of redemption. Stuart is recovering from humiliating himself in front of a woman and her friends, but manages to display an act of kindness towards Wade. On the surface Stuart portrays himself as a self-centered louse who equates masculinity with sex. Underneath a crust of cheap pick-up lines is an individual searching for emotional attachments. If Merchant’s mission was to produce a serviceable episode that would appeal to his fans, then he accomplished this task. The show has potential however characters such as Wade need to be more defined. Stuart’s humanity (if not humility) should be displayed throughout the an episode not the last portion. Hello Ladies is not appointment television, but the first episode justifies the series’ space on your DVR.
Hello Ladies Starts Wednesday 16th October at 10.00pm on Sky Atlantic.
Contributed by Mo Walker