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Hello Ladies could also merit a quick goodbye from HBO


Stephen Merchant keeps striking out in Hello Ladies. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 29th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Stephen Merchant, Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman
Produced by: Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg

Stephen Merchant, trying something on his own after numerous collaborations with Ricky Gervais, stars as -- what else -- a sad sack in HBO’s new Hello Ladies.

He’s a long, tall, drink of deluded desperation named Stuart Pritchard, who’s recently relocated from England to Los Angeles in hopes of finding glamour, excitement and easily seduced bedmates. But James Bond he’s not, of course, despite thinking he can “weave my magic” with Courtney, a cute acquaintance of his tenant, Jessica (Christine Woods). So it keeps going badly for him in the first two episodes sent for review.

It’s OK to be a sad sack. But for viewers to have a rooting interest in your happiness or even moderate contentment, you can’t be a callow cad as well. Stuart, a web designer, crosses that line in Episode 2. An attractive tourist and her two women friends agree to join Stuart and his two mates in a limousine that initially was rented for another purpose. She seems taken with Stuart, but he ends up snubbing her for a leggier, vacuous creature. Upon crawling back, she tells him to “F*&k off,” which is exactly what he deserves. And at that point, this viewer didn’t care a whit anymore about vainglorious Stuart. In fact, shingles seems too good for him.

Stuart otherwise hangs out with the dumpy, depressed Wade (Nate Torrence), whose wife has recently dumped him as any woman would. The two also regularly team up with the disabled Kives (Kevin Weisman), who doesn’t let a wheelchair stop him from having better luck with the ladies.

In Episode 1, Stuart ends up pursuing Courtney to a trendy, expensive club after ensuring that both he and Wade are packing condoms for the occasion. His offer to buy drinks escalates into a humongous bar tab before Stuart makes a further mess of things by falling into a big tray full of them. It’s all more painful than funny before he again ends up eating alone.

The Jessica character, who’s trying to produce a web series, is far savvier than Stuart. But her three principal girlfriends, introduced in Episode 2, take turns being ditzy, ditzier and ditziest. Jessica’s efforts to treat them to a stay-at-home “culture” night of jazz music and the black-and-white Russian film Battleship Potemkin go no better than Stuart’s constant missteps and mishaps. Still, she’s at least worthy of something good happening to her. Stuart is not.

Hello Ladies already seems well-worn by the end of Episode 2. Some of Merchant’s asides are amusing enough, but not to the point of caring one way or the other about what befalls his character. As a self-important shlepper without any bottom line redemptive qualities, Stuart deserves what’s coming to him. Which apparently will be one strikeout after another -- and hopefully a good fastball to the head as well.


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