Stephen Merchant’s 2011 standup tour ‘Hello Ladies’ was a revelation. His first time going it alone since the profile-raising success of ‘The Office’, the show portrayed the gangly Bristolian as charmingly awkward, admirably genuine and – crucially – funnier than Ricky Gervais.
Now, in an unlikely evolutionary leap, the routine’s spawned a sitcom, with Merchant’s clumsy courtship technique still firmly at the crux. At times, alter-ego Stuart is just as gawkily likeable, but more often he’s a lecherous creep – part Alan Partridge, inappropriately whipping out his smartphone in a nightclub to corroborate a suicide-themed chat-up line, part Gareth Keenan, ordering an $800 round in the hope it’ll get him laid.
Still, the spirit of the stand-up show does occasionally shine through, and the all-too-relatable scene in which Stuart visits an insipid LA nightclub throws up moments of classic, fist-eating cringe. Overall, though, it’s just a touch too hollow. As a show devised for US audiences, it’s not surprising to see Merchant trading subtle inflections for broader gags. But with wider appeal comes less focus, meaning it’s tough to see ‘Hello Ladies’ doing its source material justice as the series continues.