I was thrilled to read the first positive review of HBO's "Hello Ladies" this morning. Dade Hayes, a columnist for Forbes.com, writes, "Over the winding course of its flinty, eight-episode run, the show has blossomed, becoming at once antic and deeply felt, an unusual mix of sharp wit and melancholy."
At last, a critic gets it!
If you haven't seen the show, it's the brainchild of Stephen Merchant, a frequent collaborator with Ricky Gervais. (He was Gervais's sidekick in this hilarious skit with Liam Neeson I wrote about here last year.) Merchant plays the lead, a socially awkward British web developer named Stuart Pritchard whose main goal in life seems to be scoring with a supermodel in his adopted town of LA. Critics have lambasted the show, calling it "cringeworthy" because of the outrageous and uncomfortable situations the supremely self-unaware and often unlikeable Pritchard gets himself into: telling homophobic and racist jokes during a hot tub party whose guests included a gay couple and a black editor from Vanity Fair and demanding that a bouncer return a tip when Pritchard doesn't physically step into the club.
Basically Stuart Pritchard is an English Larry David, but for some reason the critics who loved "Curb Your Enthusiasm" can't stomach "Hello Ladies." I fear it's a case where the more acidic British sense of humor is a little tough for some Americans to swallow. Case in point: "The Office," which Merchant co-created with Gervais. I know Americans who adore Michael Scott on the U.S. version of the show, but they watch an episode of the original British version with Gervais playing David Brant, and they sit there with stony faces, occasionally shifting in their seats with physical discomfort. (I happen to like both versions for different reasons.)
Other things I love about the show: the rest of the cast! Especially the character of Jessica, Stuart's pool-house renter and aspiring actress, who is just dorky enough that you can't help but root for her. (The actress Christine Woods deserves kudos here. She plays Jessica with such nuance.) If you're an "Alias" fan, Kevin Weisman's face will be familiar to you. He plays Stuart's foul-mouthed frenemy who uses his disability to charm the pants of beautiful girls, much to Stuart's annoyance. I haven't spent a lot of time in LA, but its portrayal in "Hello Ladies" feels right to me: Like some of Merchant's characters, I feel invisible there because I'm not blonde, buxom, and Botoxed. Bonus: soundtracks include Hall & Oates, Gerry Rafferty, and Al Stewart. Remember "Year of the Cat"? I hadn't heard that song in years until watching "Hello Ladies."
HBO hasn't renewed "Hello Ladies" for a second season, and I'm nervous because critics were so hard on the first two episodes. I won't give anything away, but last weekend was the first season finale and for those critics who thought Stuart Pritchard was entirely too self-obsessed, well ... there's a heart beating in that pigeon-chest of his. I hope the network that gave us TWO seasons of the dreadful "Mind of the Married Man" will give Stephen Merchant another year to develop this very funny -- and yes, oftentimes uncomfortable -- comedy. If they renew it, I'll definitely pay Verizon for the HBO upgrade.
What do you think? Have you seen the show? Thoughts?