Where did that show come from? “The Dinner” was an improvement, delivering on the promise of the first episode of Hello Ladies where the previous two episodes faltered. But in doing so, it exposed the holes in the show's very premise that have made the last two episodes not nearly as much fun as the pilot or this episode.
In my review of the first episode of Hello Ladies, I said that the show needed to be careful of feeling like an extended bit. It needed to expand and deepen to be worth the time. “The Limo” and “The Date” never achieved that. Those episodes felt like they would have made excellent stand up bits, which makes sense, considering that Hello Ladies is based on Stephen Merchant's onstage work. But an act and a show are different beasts (unless you're Louis CK).
“The Dinner” didn't feel like bits. Why? In part because it didn't spend all of its time focusing on Stuart's inability to pick up women (which was funny the first time but doesn't make for a show) and put him in the context of a couple. Merchant and Christine Woods have such an easy chemistry that I wish the show was built around them as an uber awkward couple. The impetus for events to occur within the dinner did not hinge on whether Stuart or Jessica was single. Sure, Stuart pined after the model from the billboard of “The Limo,” but he could have easily been pining over a potential business client, or anyone else worth meeting. Jessica's motivation is simply Amelia one-upmanship and has nothing to do with her marital status. The best moments of the episode were when Stuart and Jessica worked in tandem, augmenting their own humiliation. They aren't ignorant of each other's humiliation or their own. It is a shame when, at the end of the episode, Stuart and Jessica retire to their own separate bedrooms.
Chekhov has this famous quote that essentially says: If there is a gun on the wall in the first scene of a play, that gun is going to go off in the next act. In the case of Stuart and Jessica, their guns are awkward moments, and this episode might as well have been a meeting of the NRA. It wasn't Stuart's desperation that got him into trouble this episode, but his mouth, going too far once he's perceived as likable. When he went to the bathroom to look up jokes (and subsequently practice them, a wonderful piece of facial comedy), my stomach dropped. I knew the guns was going to go off, but I didn't know when. The boon of the gag was that I was kept waiting with my hands over my ears waiting for the boom. That elongation of uncomfortability similarly worked in Jessica's favor (well, not in hers, but rather ours). That was the tap dance that never ended, beginning well before she taped quarters to her shoes when Amelia mentioned that she was Maria in West Side Story on Broadway.
While Stuart and Jessica are humiliating themselves dinner party style, Kives and Wade are finding the pathos in Stuart, buried around layers of assholisms. It's a nice reminder that Stuart is a sad person beneath the pick up lines and gimmicks. There were visualizations of that concept in each episode, namely the recurring image of the lonely drive home, giving at least the pilot depth, but there's something more intimate about seeing a private, written-out list of Stuart's own sadness. Not only do we, as an audience, know this is a sad guy, but the list also offered a sense that he's acutely aware of his own loneliness, as well. This may seem obvious, but it's a reason for the way he acts, giving him a layer of humanity that was so sorely missing from his character.
- Rickety Cricket!
- “I'm inspired a lot by the fashions of Adrien Brody.”
- “I'm going to leave the price tag on, so they know how much we spent.”
- “If gray hair happens, make it work.”