I'll admit that I did not go into Hello Ladies with an open mind. I know that Stephen Merchant, who co-created the series and stars in it as sad-sack singleton Stuart, is supposed to be a funny man, and he was one of the minds behind the UK Office, so clearly he's got a decent track record. But how many more jokes can we possibly make about unattractive, socially awkward men who've been raised to believe that they deserve the attention of beautiful young (and, inevitably, dumb) women? Is there anything more to say about how Los Angeles is (among many, many other things) a superficial city?
Not particularly, it turns out. The pilot is an absolute hackfest, presenting us with a handful of boring stereotypes-- Stuart has a loser friend, Wade (Nate Torrence) who is trying and failing to get over a divorce, an a enemy named Kives (Kevin Weisman) who's raunchy and rude. He rents his poolhouse to an "aging" actress, Jessica (Christine Woods) with a hot boyfriend who's using her for sex. The plot revolves around Stuart trying to impress one of Jessica's hot young castmates at a cool club and failing miserably.
I know Stuart is supposed to be an anti-hero and that the idea is that the comedy is cringe-heavy, funny because it's so awful, but the problem is that none of it is funny-- nor is it even that awful. The characters are all cardboard cutouts, lacking the nuance or depth that might make them interesting or even remotely sympathetic. Plus, to be perfectly honest, I've had my fill of comedy that rests on the premise that smart guys are awkward and hot girls are dumb. There's a meanness to Hello Ladies that goes beyond Stuart's desperate, pathetic machinations, a cruelty that robs it of any possible emotional resonance. We're supposed to cringe at Stuart's obviously flawed attempts to get girls but we're also supposed to believe that he's a fool for caring about these girls in the first place, because they're just as shallow and useless as he is. Only you can bet that by the end of the series we'll feel sorry for Stuart, in one way or another: it's his story, after all. The girls are never going to get smarter, though, or be given anything to do in the narrative other than be pretty and petty and disinterested. It's a misogynist formula and a tired one. So even though it's early and even though it's a pilot, I'm calling it: goodbye, Hello Ladies. It's not me, it's you.