September 30, 2013

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Hello Ladies”


HELLO LADIES:  Sunday 10:30PM on HBO

HBO sure loves it some Ricky Gervais-ian British comedy.  Apart from his stand-up specials, over the past few years the network has aired Extras, Life’s Too Short and The Ricky Gervais Show, and now, with Gervais in Netflix’s clutches with Derek, it’s resorted to the pseudo-Gervais of the new HELLO LADIES, with Stephen Merchant, Gervais’s partner in most of those projects, serving as auteur and star.

Like the Gervais shows, Hello Ladies (created by Merchant with Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg) is a comedy of social humiliation and awkwardness.  Merchant plays Stephen, a British web designer living in LA whose life is largely consumed by not just failed but disastrous, doomed approaches to women.  Stephen has a sad-sack buddy Wade (Nate Torrance), whose wife has just separated from him, and his other friend is Kevis (Kevin Weisman), a paraplegic who naturally is the only one of the three who actually has dating success (that gag was handled more inventively on FX’s Legit).  Then there’s Jessica (Christine Woods), the lovely single actress who lives in Stephen’s guest house and with whom he has genuine rapport, and who therefore is the one woman he doesn’t try to date.

At least in the pilot, written by the series creators and directed by Merchant, there’s little to the show beyond Stephen’s dismal attempts to connect with women.  He manages to get onto the VIP list at a hot club in order to hook up with a friend of Jessica’s, and ends up buying $800 worth of drinks for practically everyone in the place and crashing all of them to the floor when he falls over a table, all the while ignoring the obvious fact that the girl has zero interest in him.  In case all that isn’t enough, he has to carry Kevis up many flights of steps so that Kevis can have sex with the women he successfully picked up at the club.  (It’s not clear how Kevis was supposed to get downstairs afterward.)

Merchant on his own has a less mean-spirited tone than in his partnerships with Gervais, and he’s very skilled at awkwardness, heaving pointless words at the women he’s hoping to charm and using his long body as a punchline.  Hello Ladies is meant to have a note of melancholy underneath the silliness, and that registers.  It’s hard to see, though, how much of a series there is in watching his character pathetically strike out every week, unless Merchant, Stupnitsky and Eisenberg have something else in mind as the show goes on.  Torrance and Weisman have very limited roles, and although the scenes between Merchant and Woods are the best thing in the show, there’s limited mileage to be had from them.

HBO, whether due to sheer enthusiasm or some kind of demographic anomaly, has been very loyal to its British comedies, most of which have been among the lowest-rated shows on its air.  Given that, perhaps Hello Ladies will last.  It’s doubtful, though, that if it does it will be because the show finds much of an audience.

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."