It’s not hard to understand why HBO would want to be in business with Stephen Merchant. The co-creator of “The Office,” “Extras” and “Life’s Too Short” with Ricky Gervais (the latter two shows aired on HBO), Merchant has an agile comic mind and is an underrated performer.
Gervais has of late branched out into a few projects on his own (most recently “Derek,” which just came to the United States on Netflix). Merchant follows suit with his first solo outing, “Hello Ladies,” which he created and stars in. You can see the DNA of his past shows in it, but the execution comes up short.
Merchant plays Stuart, a web designer in Los Angeles who is the exception to the rule that British accents automatically make a guy sexy. He’s forever on the prowl, forever getting shot down. He’s either tremendously optimistic or delusional, though, because he never adjusts his approach.
To its credit, “Hello Ladies,” which premieres Sunday (Sept. 29), is pretty self-aware about Stuart’s shortcomings. He’s not shown in a very sympathetic light, and his grasping, flop-sweating attempts at making the scene are rightly almost never rewarded.
That also, however, means that as often as not, Stuart isn’t a guy you really want to be around. His friend Wade (Nate Torrence) is an emotional wreck, having just been blindsided by his wife asking for separation. Yet Stuart repeatedly bails on him to pursue what he sees as better prospects. It’s not pretty.
Stuart gets on better with Jessica (Christine Woods), a struggling actress who lives in his guest house. With her, at least, he seems to recognize that he has no shot, and they have an ease with each other that comes with knowing where the other person stands.
Merchant uses his gangly physicality (at 6-foot-7, he towers over everyone else on the show) to good effect in scenes when Stuart is on the make. Despite that, though, and despite the fact that Merchant is willing to make himself the butt of the joke, “Hello Ladies” doesn’t quite pull off the trick of making Stuart someone you want to spend week after week seeing. That’s fitting, maybe, for a show about a guy who never closes the deal.