x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant shines as a gangly, lovelorn tightwad in Hello Ladies

After creating The Office with Ricky Gervais, UK comic mastermind Stephen Merchant steps out as a gangly lovelorn tightwad in Hello Ladies.

Stephen Merchant plays the English web designer Stuart Pritchard, who relocates to LA in hopes of finding excitement and romance, in Hello Ladies. Courtesy HBO
Stephen Merchant plays the English web designer Stuart Pritchard, who relocates to LA in hopes of finding excitement and romance, in Hello Ladies. Courtesy HBO

Los Angeles may be dripping with dream girls – but the City of Angels proves pure torture for a gawky, pinchpenny Englishman searching for the woman of his dreams in Hello Ladies, the brilliant new HBO comedy series with Stephen Merchant as its star, creator, director and executive producer.

If the name Merchant rings familiar, it should. With his creative partner Ricky Gervais, he co-created the British sitcom The Office – which led to the acclaimed US version – and is well-known to fans globally as the co-host of The Ricky Gervais Show in its radio, podcast, audiobook and TV-show incarnations.

While erroneously perceived by some as the wind beneath Gervais’s wings – Merchant, 39, weighs in as an equal who has his own shelves groaning with Bafta, British Comedy, Golden Globes and Emmy awards – and who now is finally soaring to his personal comic apogee in his role as Stuart Pritchard, an English web designer who relocates to LA in hopes of finding excitement, romance and maybe even a soulmate.

“He’s just a loser in England who is a loser here,” says Merchant. “There’s a common fantasy that Los Angeles, in particular, is kind of exotic and sexy. And Stuart grew up watching Moonlighting – and now he’s here and he bought a house in the Hollywood Hills and he can see the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign, but only if he stands on the roof. So it’s that kind of place.”

He adds: “It seems that all American comedy is [full of] losers. No one on The Big Bang Theory is, shall I say, a ‘stud’, and that’s a big show. I don’t think you’d think of the Woody Allen or even the Bill Murray character as a winner. They at least start as losers.”

At six foot seven inches, Merchant has no problem standing out in this bold series that seems a natural fit for fans who have pined for something with the edgy, politically incorrect overbite of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm since it ended in 2011. When he met with TV critics last August in LA, they fixated on his height.

“It’s hard for me to fit in the frame with actors in Hollywood, who I constantly find are pitifully small,” says Merchant, who’s been famously teased himself as an “upright lizard being given electroshock treatment” and a “stick insect with glasses” by Gervais, and as a “graceful grasshopper” by the British comic Russell Brand.

Working out of his home office, his character Stuart scores an easy rapport with his attractive roommate Jessica (Christine Woods), but she has zero romantic interest in him. Half as charming as he thinks he is – and twice as desperate – Stuart obsesses with infiltrating the alluring world of the beautiful people.

In eight episodes this first season, Stuart doggedly trolls the LA social scene in the company of his new American mates: Wade (Nate Torrence), who’s in the throes of a divorce; and Kives (Kevin Weisman), a charismatic, dirty-minded paraplegic who fares far better with the ladies than either of them.

Dating nowadays has only become painfully dragged out by the internet and texting, says the single Merchant, who admits he borrowed elements of his life for his series.

“I honestly think I would have been happier in the Middle Ages where everyone was dead by 30. So you had no time to do this [internet stuff] – you just had to get a move on. You never left your village. You never even knew there was another village, anywhere. You married whoever was not dead in your town. You met them on a Wednesday, married them on a Friday and were having kids by the next Tuesday – you had to have kids before winter came.

“The best you could hope for is that you both got plague at the same time. That would be the great romantic end to your union. It was just simpler times.”

• Hello Ladies premieres at 11pm on Monday on OSN First HD


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