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Hello Ladies: The Complete Series and the Movie

HBO // Unrated // May 26, 2015
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted June 25, 2015 | E-mail the Author
It's hard to think of a 21st century comedy TV show with more of an influence than the original version of "The Office." It spawned an American remake that ran for nine seasons (which itself resulted in another immensely popular show) and turned both of its creators into American comic stars, but the entire language of modern TV comedy has moved toward the awkward and uncomfortable as a source of humor, one of the more unique elements that made the show so memorable. It's also hard to think of a show that seems to be more misunderstood or misremembered by the people who were influenced by it. "Hello Ladies" was not only created by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, two writers on the American "Office", but also Stephen Merchant, co-creator of the UK original, and it's clear that not only are they desperately trying to follow the same recipe, they're getting the ingredients completely wrong.

Merchant plays Stuart Pritchard, owner of a small Hollywood apartment complex and freelance web designer. Along with his struggling friend Wade Bailey (Nate Torrence), Stuart routinely wades into the Los Angeles dating pool, surrounded by beautiful and glamorous models and actresses, and just as frequently comes up short. Stuart's tenant, aspiring actress and filmmaker Jessica (Christine Woods), often pushes him to try setting his sights a little lower, but doesn't stop Stuart from using her agent / fling Glenn (Sean Wing) as a way into posh parties with the showbiz elite. Hanging around the fringes are Kives (Kevin Weisman), who hasn't let his wheelchair get in the way of his status as a ladies' man, and Rory (Kyle Mooney), Stuart's socially awkward web design assistant.

Although most people remember the David Brent character affectionately, that sympathy was hard-earned. For the bulk of the series, Brent was a pretty genuine heel, with several episodes ending on a spectacularly appalling joke or weaselly executive decision. Whether or not Brent meant to upset people was beside the point: his eternal poor taste in any and all situations (and Gervais' fearlessness in portraying it) was the show's comedic engine. However, because Brent's eventual emotional downfall and subsequent triumph in the series' concluding special were so satisfying, the idea of a clueless jerk who's secretly decent became part of the show's legacy, with most people remembering it more in hindsight than as it was. The American version cemented this reputation by playing that card over and over again, reminding us repeatedly that Michael Scott was a good guy underneath everything (albeit, often to good effect).

"Hello Ladies" represents the dead-end in that road, a show that gives us Stuart's awful jokes and embarrassing selfishness and simply expects the audience to assume from the beginning that despite his behavior, there's a decent man in there. Merchant is a talented and funny comedian, but here he's got little to do but repeatedly scheme and plot his next romantic conquest (and frequently, how to make sure others lose out in the process), only to repeatedly fail, often while being tricked into spending huge amounts of money. As the show has no characters to serve as the audience surrogate that can contextualize his behavior as awful within the show, we're left with a protagonist whose arrogance is what's supposed to make us like him. When Stuart makes a derisive comment about Kives' wheelchair or Wade's crumbling marriage, there aren't any other stresses that have pushed him into a corner, and nobody reacts in horror -- he's just being rude, and that's what the viewer is meant to enjoy.

The other overwhelming memory of the original "Office" is the satisfaction of Tim and Dawn's story, a slow-burn will-they-or-won't-they that went unresolved as long as Gervais and Merchant could manage. The American remake wisely shook things up as early as the second season, but "Hello Ladies" couldn't hide the obviousness of Jessica as the one for Stuart if Eisenberg, Stupnitsky, and Merchant had tried -- something there is no evidence of. In Gervais and Merchant's follow-up series "Extras", Ashley Jensen's character played a similar role, but she was also a true co-star, genuinely supporting her friend when he needed it and laughing at his many misfortunes. Here, Jessica takes a backseat to Wade, with each of Stuart and Jessica's post-mortems coming off less like conversations between two characters and more like a self-deprecating interaction that reflects well on Stuart. It's not Woods' fault: she's saddled with lame storylines such as trying to bring culture to a ladies' night (her "friends" being vapid caricatures who don't seem to have anything in common with her), or her forcing a playwright to watch her entire webseries in the middle of a wedding, then balking at her criticisms.

The series ends with a movie, which takes the relatively open end to the series and starts checking off boxes. Tell Glenn he's a tool? Check. Reveal some actual sympathy for Wade? Check. Allow Wade to meet someone? Check. Finally, inevitably, bring Stuart and Jessica together? Check. Throw in a dash of good old fashioned Nice Guy behavior (I was rooting for the show to score at least a couple of points by allowing Jessica to speak up, but of course, Stuart is the one who says something) and an entirely useless celebrity cameo (a routine which feels like an "Extras" reject), and you've got yourself a tepid stew. One could accuse me of being a poor critic, in that I could not write about "Hello Ladies" without comparing it to "The Office." I think the reverse is true: "Hello Ladies" brings nothing to the table but underwhelming imitation.

The DVD
Instead of releasing the first (and only) season of the show, HBO held off and is releasing the series and the movie as a single 3-disc package. Oddly, they have opted to create art that suggests a double feature, with promo art for the movie on top and promo art for the show on the bottom of the title, angling across the middle of the two images. The set arrives in an Amaray case with a two-disc swing tray, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, "Hello Ladies" looks and sounds just fine on DVD. The film has a digital softness to it, like a very faint haze around it, and it mostly takes place in cleanly painted apartment buildings with impeccable decorating, which doesn't make for a particularly vivid image. Club scenes are only a little more extreme, with the occasional colored light in the background, but for the most part this is a bland-ish, handsomely modern looking show, which proves no challenge for compression. Audio-wise, those club scenes are generally not the most convincing, but that's more on the mixers who worked on the show than this disc, which appears to present things as accurately as possible. Insert the usual comment about how this is mostly dialogue-based, and you have a soundtrack that's about as uninteresting in its complete and total adequacy as the PQ. French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 tracks are also on tap, along with English, French, Latin Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles.

The Extras
Extras for "Hello Ladies" are pretty thin. Each disc comes with a short reel of deleted scenes (7:14, 15:41, 5:16), which unsurprisingly are not a wild deviation from the show's mediocrity. There is also a brief making-of featurette (6:52), which is pretty promotional and surface-level, although Merchant tells a story about meeting someone at a party that is funnier than most of the material from the show.

Conclusion
While it sounds great on paper to see Stephen Merchant getting a chance to play the lead, "Hello Ladies" is reheated leftovers, slopped on the plate without much care or attention to how the elements of the dish were meant to go together in the first place. With "The Office", Merchant helped build a certain style of comedy television show, and the results were great. "Hello Ladies" finds him driving the final nail through its coffin. Skip it.


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