Looks like Hello Ladies has grown soft on us in its final two episodes; but the show is all the better for it. It’s the opposite of conventional wisdom: Cringe comedy is normally at its best when the scenarios escalate into nether regions of discomfort. But that’s not the case with Hello Ladies, and especially "The Driver," where the message seems to be that sometimes accepting failure isn't the worst thing that can happen.
“The Drive” is a counterpoint to “The Limo,” the second episode of the series, in which Stuart and the gang drive around Los Angeles in search of a good time. This time, it's not the stretch limo of the unattainable life Stuart so desperately wants, but will never have. This time, Stuart admits his steed is the shitty BMW. As opposed to “The Limo,” Stuart has a goal that’s more concrete then “Get bitches.” There’s a purpose to their trip, a reason they’re doing what they’re doing, even if they’re simply celebrating. Take the scene where Stuart wants his bribe back from the doorman and makes a scene when he’s told his $40 was velvet-rope entrance fee and is non-refundable. He makes a scene in opposition to the bouncer’s behavior and not just because he’s a cheap bastard. Stuart still made an ass of himself—major props to Stephan Merchant’s physicality on this—but he was given a good reason to do so.
What worked about this episode was that even as each character played it cooler than they had all season, there was a still that sense that everything is about to come crashing down that pervades the episode. It begins at the end of the “The Wedding” when Stuart and Jessica finally get a win: They finally have something to brag about, they one-up each other with pictures (his: Kimberly, hers: LL Cool J), and Glen finally learns Stuart’s name. Because it’s Hello Ladies, their wins won’t last. “The Drive” slowly builds on that notion—that these characters couldn’t end their run on our television screens with a hot new girlfriend and a regular part on NCIS—throughout the episode. When it finally came crashing down for everyone—when Jessica got the call from Glen, Wade was given hard truths about his marriage, and Stuart decides for himself not to get the girl—there is a surprising emotional resonance that I didn’t expect from Hello Ladies.
That emotional resonance is in large part due to Christine Woods, who has been the shows MVP for me. As she hands the expensive Louis Vuitton purse to Amelia, we know she’s doing something terribly bitchy that we shouldn’t applaud, but Woods has imbued Jessica with enough humanity that you want to let her have this short moment of glory—even as you know that it's going to come back to bite her in the ass. The scene where she tries to find a cab with Wade, explaining that maybe some things aren’t meant to be as much as we want them to happen, interspersed with yips to scare the coyotes away, is completely perfect. Jessica has been the closest thing to an audience identification point the series has had, but Woods doesn’t shy away from making Jessica as ridiculous as the rest, including trying to alleviate the coyote threat level with some well-timed yelling. But where Woods truly stands out is when she experienced the crushing call from Glen, telling her that she was being recast in NCIS. There is absolutely nothing funny about her looking up at Wade and telling him that everything was fine, or sitting on her bed, after stubbing her toe yet another time, and knowing that she’ll be confined to her tiny carriage-house prison forevermore. And that’s exactly what makes it so great. Woods infuses the show with pathos that has not been present in the previous seven episodes.
Hello Ladies as a whole is best when it works against its concept—frenetic cringe-worthiness—and when it was more than just Stephen Merchant hitting on women. The show succeeds when Merchant calms down in a way that doesn't preclude his inherent dickishness. I’m glad we didn’t get to see them get together in the end. Just knowing that Stuart is going to spend his night at home eating chicken wings and watching a movie by himself is enough.
- I would be remiss if I did not add Kyle Mooney to the list of MVPs.
- Has there ever been a more unnecessary character than Kives? That is no fault of Kevin Weisman’s, by the way.
- “I can barely hear myself masturbate.”
- “Kimberly? Oh no, you’re not a model.”