Stuart Pritchard isn’t just bad at talking to women. As this week’s Hello Ladies proves, Stuart Pritchard is miserable at meeting anyone new. On “Long Beach,” Stuart’s attempts to make new friends with the construction workers laboring on his pool house, only to have the entire interaction, as usual, blow up in his face. But the slight change in direction is a refreshing turn for the show. After all, wooing new friends is just as rife for potential awkwardness as chasing after leggy blond models.
“Long Beach” opens with a fake-out of the highest order: Stuart and Jessica, snuggling together, asleep under the sheets. But of course, that will-they-won’t-they issue can’t be settled that quickly off camera. Jessica jerks awake and grumbles about Stuart’s head on his chest, and the explanation becomes decidedly less juicy. Turns out that the guesthouse roof is being renovated and Stuart is too cheap to pay for a hotel room for Jessica. Why she couldn’t sleep on the couch isn’t a question that was raised, but sure, weird penny-pinching is in character for Stuart.
As is his next move, awkwardly trying to befriend his contract employees. Stuart’s explanation to Jessica is that chatting to the new guys will prevent them from hiking up prices on the bill later, but Stuart’s transparent loneliness and dissatisfaction with his own friends suggests otherwise. He wants to be buddies with a roughneck crew from Long Beach for the same reasons that he won’t rest until he beds an airbrushed model type. It fits the image of the person he wants to be, heedless of what the actual facts of his life are.
Hello Ladies is all about that awful gap between expectation and reality. As Stuart, clad in an Ed Hardy-esque button down with blue flames licking the collar, heads on the train to Long Beach (taking public transit is mistake number one), you can practically see the visions of the night ahead dancing in his head. He’ll buddy up to a crew of muscled dudes in undershirts, snag a spandex-clad lady at the club, and whisk her to his hot tub, where she’ll be flabbergasted by his wealth and Englishness. Of course, that’s not what happens. What shows like Hello Ladies and the marvelous Party Down are intent on showing is the man behind Hollywood’s curtain. Even the place that makes those magic film moments can’t make them come true.
Stuart’s failures begin when he assumes that his newfound friends picking him up are out for his wallet, and they only get worse from there. In one argument, he manages to get various taco toppings dumped on his clothes. His attempts to make it with an impressionable-seeming attractive girl named Erica, a.k.a. “Easy E,” keep being interrupted by various attempts to induct Stuart into a new friend crew. There’s a fight, there’s a failed attempt at doing coke that leads flustered Stuart to claim fellatio was the reason he was in a bathroom stall with another dude, not drugs. Finally, Stuart returns to a house party only to explain his immigration with a modified version of the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” song and accidentally insult the party host’s sister who is, as it turns out, the Easy E of club fame. In the midst of the kerfuffle he starts, Stuart slips away and runs back to the train station. Days later, his construction workers, sour expressions set on their faces, give him a bill for $3,000 more than they quotes and a little present on his garage door: a spray-painted dick, captioned with “I suck cock.”
Jessica and Wade fare no better this episode. Wade gets hit particularly hard with the ol’ expectation v. reality gap when he attempts a romantic gesture to win back Marion. Jessica convinces him that he should, a la “The Officer and the Gentleman,” go to Marion’s workplace and sweep her off her feet. But in real life, a suitr coming into your cubicle and attempting to carry you away is a cause for alarm, not celebration. Poor Wade bungles his attempt, merely upsetting Marion in front of her customer service co-workers, and then has a sad cup of coffee in the break room. At the end of the episode, Marion asks for a divorce.
Jessica, inspired by the candor of Wade’s daughter Cassidy, has a similar problem. Cassidy wonders, in that way of children not familiar with the nebulous world of weird hookups and the logical scaffolding grown-ups use to explain away situations that aren’t ideal, why Glen isn’t Jessica’s boyfriend. “I like him, but I don’t want to tell him ‘cause he’ll hold it against me,” Jessica says. When Jessica later confronts Glen, her concern over their situation activates the script he must have memorized in event of emergency “define the relationship” situation. “I think it’s dangerous to define it,” Glen says, before going in to remove her shirt. It’s funny, but also a little heartbreaking. “Long Beach” had plenty of its standard humiliation humor in it, but it also pushed at it, just a little. Maybe there’s a future out there for these characters that’s not quite so dissatisfying. Or maybe that’s only for Kive.