November 18, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Hello Ladies”


The formulaic TV sitcom plot can be summed up like this:  the protagonist has some understandable goal, but says or does the worst possible thing to achieve it, causing chaos–yet things work out OK in the end, and the character learns a valuable lesson.  In recent years, the traditional rules of TV comedy (and drama) have become far less fixed, but on HBO’s HELLO LADIES, the result is just as predictable:  in every episode, Stuart (series co-creator Stephen Merchant) says and does awful things, mostly in pursuit of sex with models, but things don’t work out at all, and he learns absolutely nothing, making almost identical mistakes the following week.  The morality is all that’s different.

Hello Ladies finished its first season tonight, and because this was the season finale, there was a hint of generosity in the last few minutes of the episode.  For the most part, though, it was more of the same.  Stuart finally had his best chance of sex with Kimberly (Heather Hahn), the gorgeous blonde model he’d been haplessly pursuing for most of the season, and as he followed her trail around LA, always a text message behind, he ruthlessly abandoned his friends Jessica (Christine Woods), Wade (Nate Torrance) and Kives (Kevin Weisman) to fend for themselves.  Mostly unemployed actress Jessica, for her part, was little better than Stuart:  finally cast in a network show (NCIS LA), she was just as passive-aggressively nasty to frenemy Amelia (Jenny Slate) as Amelia had been to her in earlier episodes.  For anyone who’d been watching Hello Ladies, there was no question that however promising things looked, Stuart would never get laid and that Jessica wouldn’t actually star in a network show, and of course neither of those things came to pass; the only nod to grace was that Stuart voluntarily (if reluctantly) left a skinny-dipping Kimberly on her Malibu beach when he found out that CBS had recast Jessica’s role, so that he could go home and be there for her.  (There continued, however, to be no hint of romance between them.)

Merchant is a funny guy, nimbly awkward with his elongated body, and wielding a barbed tongue, although even freed of Ricky Gervais, he still seems more like a sidekick than a lead.  Hello Ladies had some laughs and even charm, especially when Stuart and Jessica were simply hanging out.  As co-writer with fellow creators Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, though (the three of them wrote all but 2 of the 8 episodes together, and Merchant directed more than half of them as well), he went to the well of Stuart’s selfishness and stupidity far too often.  The character didn’t even make logical sense:  in tonight’s finale, Stuart was shocked to his roots to find out that a bouncer at a trendy LA club would want $20 each to let his friends cut the line, a naivete that didn’t fit with his obsession to know about all things cool, not to mention the amounts he’d spent in earlier episodes in his pursuit of models.  Wade and Kives were even more one-dimensional than Stuart and Jessica, Wade a soon-to-be-divorced sad sack (he was overweight and sweated a lot), and Kives a paraplegic ladies’ man.  Again, the assumption seemed to be that by giving stock characters four-letter words to say (and putting one in a wheelchair), they would somehow become funnier and edgier, but it didn’t work that way.

It’s unclear whether Hello Ladies will return, since although its ratings were so low that they didn’t even register on generally available lists in most weeks, HBO has been extremely loyal to its Gervasian string of little-watched British comedies.  If it does, one might suggest that a more promising approach could be to explore the comfortable but wary relationship between Stuart and Jessica, but that’s unlikely to happen, since Merchant and his partners have a very single-minded fascination with hard-edged superficiality and narcissism.  Despite all the talent Hello Ladies displays, the viewer is hard-pressed to root for it to succeed.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."