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Opinion

Well, this is awkward (but not awkward enough)

Stephen Merchant stars in Hello Ladies

Stephen Merchant stars in Hello Ladies

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/11/2014 (2024 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's a lot to be said for a good, old-fashioned happy ending.

Most folks love 'em, because they're sweet, uplifting, life-affirming and, well, happy.

But not every character deserves one, and not every TV show should attempt one.

Which brings us to the curious case of Hello Ladies, the cringe-driven HBO series that lifted lanky Brit writer/actor Stephen Merchant out of the much-shorter shadow of his frequent comedy collaborator, Ricky Gervais. The show proved that he's easily as adept at causing viewers to squirm in their seats as his more-famous pal is.

Hello Ladies, which had an eight-episode run last year but didn't fare well enough to merit a second-season renewal, is a suitable companion piece to earlier shows on which Merchant has partnered with Gervais -- The Office, Extras and Life's Too Short -- in that the majority of the laughter it creates is of the awkward, skin-crawly variety.

Merchant plays Stuart Pritchard, an expat Brit eking out an existence as a web designer in Los Angeles. Tall (six-foot-seven), gangly and blissfully unaware he lacks even the most basic social skills, Stuart fancies himself a bit of a player even though he has (thanks in large part to his reliance on the lame opening line reflected in the series' title) had absolutely no success with the L.A. ladies.

And that central conceit -- hapless Stuart and his even more loser-ish friends, mopey/dopey Wade (Nate Torrence) and wheelchair-bound sleaze-spouter Kives (Kevin Weisman), trying vainly to fit in with the beautiful people -- is what drove Hello Ladies' first-season silliness.

But when given the opportunity to wrap up the series with a movie-length finale, Merchant has opted for sweetness and sentiment rather than shudders and squirms. That may make Hello Ladies: The Movie more palatable for a wider viewing audience, but hardcore fans who stuck with the series specifically because of its wince-worthiness will likely feel they've been victims of an elaborate bait-and-switch con.

Yes, there are awkward moments in Hello Ladies: The Movie, but they're neither as frequent nor as intense as in the series' earlier eight episodes. Merchant is focused on closure, and in order to do so he has written a classic rom-com-flavoured finish.

Stuart, still as inept as ever, learns that his British ex-girlfriend is planning to visit L.A. with her husband -- that cad who stole her from Stuart -- in tow. Desperate to prove that he really is living out the Tinseltown dream, he scrambles to find a date -- any date -- to serve as evidence that he's "won at life."

As luck would have it, his roommate Jessica's (Christine Wood) boyfriend/manager invites Stuart to a swanky party on a yacht stocked with supermodels, and despite saying all the wrong things at precisely the wrong conversational moments, Stuart somehow sparks a glimmer of interest in a Russian model who agrees to fill out the double-date card for the Brits' visit.

Of course, she's a self-focused supermodel, so she dumps Stuart at the very last minute. In a panic, he begs Jessica -- who has just decided to abandon her decade-long, mostly fruitless pursuit of an acting career -- to pose as his cover-girl girlfriend.

The ruse, thanks to a timely invitation to a big phoney Hollywood party and an appropriately awkward encounter with Nicole Kidman (in a nicely delivered cameo), seems to work. The Brits are suitably impressed with Stuart's success, but more importantly, the Stuart/Jessica charade provides an enlightening setup for Hello Ladies: The Movie's final twist and inevitable hearts-and-flowers ending.

If you're a new viewer, or a fan who's hoping for Stuart to finally win one, this wrap-up will surely leave you feeling warm all over.

But if what you're hoping is for Stuart to keep being Stuart, and for Hello Ladies to say goodbye not with a cuddle but a cringe, then it's much more likely that the only thing you'll be feeling is a little bit ripped off.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Read full biography

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