What's it about?Hello Ladies is a half-hour comedy about an English geek working in Los Angeles as a web designer, who has catastrophic bad luck with the many beautiful women he encounters.
Who made it? It's written by Extras co-creator Stephen Merchant along with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (who worked on the US remake of The Office, which Merchant made with Ricky Gervais). Merchant himself has directed five of this season's eight episodes.
Who stars in it? Stephen Merchant takes the lead as the unlucky-in-love Stuart (his first starring role), joined by Christine Woods (FlashForward) as his attractive house-mate Jessica, Nate Torrence (Get Smart) as his best-friend Wade with a failing marriage, and Kevin Weisman (Alias) as a charismatic paraplegic.
What's good about it? While it's true Merchant has even greater acting limitations than confrère Ricky Gervais--having essentially played Stuart in almost everything he's appeared in lately (Hall Pass, I Give It Year)--I can't deny there's a charm and breeziness to his performance as a loquacious nerd. Stuart's one of life's loser who can't help boring women to tears in nightclubs, being inappropriate without realising, or being trampled on by the alpha males he's surrounded by... but he's got a good heart and is just looking for a soul mate.
I also like how the show is set in glitzy Los Angeles and yet Merchant retains his Englishness, although the added fish-out-of-water doesn't seem to be a big part of the comedy. Stuart never looks especially bewildered by the lights of the big city, and even drives around town listening to hip hop without looking self-conscious. If nothing else, Stuart has plenty of enthusiasm and confidence as a character, which was good to see. He's not a complete social retard, he's just prone to talking himself into knots and getting taken advantage of because he's a doormat waiting to be stepped on. One of the episode's key scenes found Stuart accidentally agreeing to pay for dozens of people's drinks, and being unable to back out of the situation because he wants to impress a woman he's met.
This episode was built around a handful of scenes where gangly Stuart crashed-and-burned while trying to chat to girls at swanky parties, but I was actually more interested in his relationship with Jessica. She's the pretty web-series creator he house shares with, and their domestic interactions were easily the more entertaining thing about this pilot. Jessica isn't interested in Stuart romantically, but there's nevertheless a fun chemistry between Merchant and Woods. They behave like siblings who enjoy winding each other up.
What's bad about it? There's time to develop and improve, but I wasn't grabbed by Stuart's friendship with Wade or Kives in the slightest. I think Stuart and Wade are supposed to have a relationship akin to Jack Black and Jason Alexander in Shallow Hal, but it didn't materialise. The trio didn't sit right together, meaning it was hard to believe they were friends, and already feels like a huge mistake.
Hello Ladies might also fall into the trap of being too rigidly about Stuart failing to sleep with La La Land's sexiest women and going home to his microwave ready-meals. After only one episode it feels like they've covered that territory pretty well. If every episode's just going to present us with different ways for Stuart to embarrass himself in front of hotties who don't find him funny or attractive, it will get boring very quickly. Hopefully the writing will manage to broaden Stuart's life pursuits, while still retaining the goal of this awkward man finding love.
Is it worth sticking with? I will probably watch the first season to get a feel for where the show's going and what it does every week, but if it gets repetitive or it becomes clear the focus is too narrow, I may not be back for a hypothetical second season.
Anything else worth mentioning? It bugged me throughout this pilot, but Christine Woods of course played FBI Agent Janis Hawk in FlashForward a few years ago. This pilot's guest star was also Crista Flanagan, whom Mad Men fans may recall played Lois the switchboard operator. Hello Ladies was also the title of Stephen Merchant's 2011 stand-up comedy tour, which was partly informed by his lack of real-life success with women.
Where and when is it airing? HBO have been showing it on Sunday nights since 29 September, scheduled to end on 17 November. Sky Atlantic have the UK rights and it premiered last night (16 October).