Whether or not you recognize it, Stephen Merchant's is one of the biggest names in comedy. From creating The Office to starring in Extras to lip-syncing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Merchant is at the forefront of mainstream comedy. The new HBO show Hello Ladies is clearly the product of Merchant's imagination, and it's both terrific and horrifying to watch.
Hello Ladies is surprisingly dissimilar to Merchant's earlier creations. If anything, Hello Ladies seems to have been inspired by The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. The dialogue is structured in a way that can only lead to awkward humor, and awkward humor abounds.
The show is about a six-foot-seven-inch British man named Stuart Pritchard who comes to America to find the girl of his dreams. At first glance, that seems like a tired premise that's more suited to a Hugh Grant movie than an HBO program. However, Stuart remains something of a mystery; Hello Ladies doesn't detail his origin story. The show starts with Stuart already living in Los Angeles. He has a company, a house, and is even a landlord. One of the best parts of the pilot is trying to figure out Stuart's backstory through dialogue and context clues. The show doesn't force-feed information to the viewer, which is fantastic. Like Arrested Development, Hello Ladies compels you to pay attention, lest you be completely lost by the second episode.
Hello Ladies starts off bold, leaving the viewer no illusions about the show that they are watching. The pilot jokes about abortion, suicide, contraception, divorce, and Seattle, and that's just in the first 30 seconds. Stuart and his supporting lead, Wade (played wonderfully by Nate Torrence), have wonderful chemistry with one another, which is complemented by the contrast between Merchant's beanpole physique and Torrence's short and stocky frame. The supporting cast is well introduced, from Jessica (Christine Woods), who's leasing Stuart's flat, to Kives (Kevin Weisman), an eternal optimist and paraplegic. (Together, Wade and Kives make up Stuart's "entourage.") Each member of the ensemble is strong enough to hold their own, and the characters' conversations are bleak, depressing, cringe-inducing, and hilarious.
In the pilot episode, Stuart offers to take a girl out to a club that he obviously can't get in to. Jessica reminds him that he promised to take Wade bowling because it's what would have been Wade's 11th anniversary, had he not broken up with his wife. Stuart tries to salvage the situation with this gem: "I always put my friends first. Well, friends-slash-family first on the list, and then endangered species … of all kinds! I'm also deeply concerned about homosexuals, and if I've got time to put anything else on the list I'll just put ... immigrants."
The most important thing to remember while watching Hello Ladies is that you are supposed to feel uncomfortable. Stuart's web-designer-by-day, philanderer-by-night attitude is repulsive at best. He reeks of desperation and lies. He would gladly throw out his friends and everything good in his life just to experience one night of the Hollywood dream. Stuart is enamored with Tinsel Town. He even bought a house with a view of the H in the Hollywood Hills sign (he can see it if he stands on the roof). Stuart is not just desperate, but unwanted, though the man can't take a hint. At one unfortunate moment in the club, Stuart offers to buy a woman a drink, and ends up buying everyone a drink. Being a crafty cheapskate, he tells the waitress to serve, "Your cheapest champagne poured into a bottle of the most expensive champagne." After returning to the table with the drinks, he accidentally trips on the table, spilling the alcohol on himself. The liquid on his shirt reveals that he has a condom in his front pocket. You can picture the face of every woman in attendance, even though we don't see them.
Hello Ladies would be close to unwatchable if it focused only on Stuart's misadventures, but the show splits its time between Stuart and Jessica, and has equally funny subplots. The show premieres Sunday night, shortly after Breaking Bad's finale. Television is in a golden age of antiheroes. As Heisenberg leaves us, Stuart Pritchard may be the comedic antihero that we've been waiting for.