Merchant’s unusual stature plays into the show
Actor Stephen Merchant speaks onstage during the “Hello Ladies” panel discussion at the HBO portion of the 2013 Summer TCA tour – Day 2 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 25, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.
(Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (Hollywood Today
) 10/1/13 – No, that wasn’t’ BBC America you were tuned into on Sunday Night. It was HBO and their newest comedy entry, Hello Ladies.
And, for the first episode, it was almost as much fun to play “spot the influence’ as it was to watch the show’s main character Stuart (Stephen Merchant) careen through the scenery like a tall, geeky, British bull in a china shop.
Most critiques of Hello Ladies
will likely start with the word Woody and end with the word Allen. The homage is obvious. However, creator/star Stephan Merchant also reminds this reviewer of a young Alfie
period Michael Caine. Main character Stuart is spectacularly inept and clueless in the presence of the opposite sex. However, that doesn’t keep him from a relentless journey through bars and posh-nightspots of Los Angeles, trying to find the perfect love connection. Merchant clearly has the comedic skills to pull off a franchise hit. However, the writers need to hold up their end. It almost seems the show doesn’t trust the American audience’s reception of a British lead actor. So, bets are hedged with sketches that are broad and slap-sticky. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to see a little more pain and pathos behind Stuart’s horn rims.
Some of the supporting characters look promising. Especially Stuart’s Hollywood Hills housemate Jessica (Christine Wood). Jessica is our way into Stuart’s world. Jessica is an aspiring actress who is feverishly working on her “web series” and clearly sees herself as a few notches above Stuart on the ‘cool’ meter. However, we have a sneaking suspicion she and Stuart have a little more in common than she would like.
has the ability to hit the long ball. The scene where Stuart pulls his convertible up to park in front of a trendy night-club is priceless. Making a cool entrance is tough when your wingman (Nate Torrence) lodges the passenger side door into the sidewalk and your other companion is a horn-dog, paraplegic dwarf (Kevin Weisman), whose wheelchair is hardly state of the art. All this occurs while a gaggle of ultra-cool club-goers gawk in amazement. This is British slapstick at its cruelest and funniest.
However, once inside the club, Stuart’s shtick starts to wear a little thin. Stuart bumbles into buying the entire club a round of drinks and tries to extract comedy gold by taking club-goers individual drink orders and knocking over a table full of Tequila shots. A money-shot with far too much foreplay and clumsy in it’s execution.
tries. Perhaps a bit too hard. There’s a great show in there somewhere. I’m willing to go back for another look.
premiered Sunday, September 29th, and it was created and exec-produced by Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. Hollywood Today among others had a chance to talk with the producers and star Stephen Merchant.
The show is set in Los Angeles. Merchant explained the British perception of La La Land, Stephen Merchant: “I think there’s a common sort of fantasy that Los Angeles in particular is kind of exotic and is full of glamour and sort of the idea being that you probably grew up watching those shows like “Moonlighting” or whatever where, you know, sort of, there was something about the night and it was sexy and it was kind of people in ball gowns going to sort of soirees that overlook the city, and he’s come here, and he’s sort of bought a house in the Hollywood Hills, but it’s not quite the house he wanted. And you can see the “H” of the Hollywood sign, but only if you stand on the roof. It’s that kind of place. He’s sort of trying to buy into this fantasy, and it never quite comes to life for him.”
The creator/star was gracious when addressing the inevitable Woody Allen comparison, Stephen Merchant: “I mean, a lot of my comic influences are distinctly American. Woody Allen, for instance, and although Bob Hope was a form of roots to me, and to me, they were always kind of underdogs who were using either wit or something else to kind of to sort of battle their way through. And I’ve never it seems like there’s a lot of network TV, where the Friends
cast are very beautiful, and I guess they come out as winners, but it seems that all American comedies kind of shot through with losers. None of the characters in the Big Bang Theory
, let’s say, are studs. That’s a huge show. I never quite understood that distinction. Maybe there’s a sort of veneer of optimism about American comedy, TV comedy, that perhaps in England we don’t mind ending it on a more sour note. Maybe that’s the distinction. But I think in terms of, like, the fundamentals of the characters, I mean, I don’t think you could imagine that the Woody Allen character or even the standard Bill Murray character is a winner. They might be a winner because they’re sardonic or they’re wise-ass, but they’re normally you know, they sort of begin at least as losers. I’ve never quite seen that distinction. I don’t know whether you as Yanks feel the same way.”
The Hello Ladies
concept started its life as a standup comedy routine. Merchant explained how it made the transition to HBO’s comedy line-up, “It was actually HBO’s idea. And then I went to them because, you know, I’d sort of known them and I’d worked with them just, you know, very infrequently on the American version of The Office
, and it seemed like we had a similar kind of mind set, and so we sort of put the show together that way.”
The ultimate twist on the Woody Allen angle is the fact that Stephen Merchant stands 6 foot 7 inches. A fact that can’t be ignored by the camera. Merchant explained how his unusual stature plays into the show, “We tried to incorporate some of the physical humor in this, and you saw a little bit of it there in that trailer. Yeah, we try to do some physical stuff as well. I’ve always been a huge fan of sort of physical humor, and when I grew up, I was a giant fan of John Cleese, who did things like Fawlty Towers
and Monty Python
, was always very physical, and I think he did a lot of very smart humor, but he was a similar height to me, and he just used that frame and that sort of gangliness, and there is something awkward and sort of out of place about being this tall.”
is slated for eight episodes. Stephen Merchant and company hope that eight isn’t