The fate of HBO’s two newest comedies has been up in the air for weeks, though the fact that neither was renewed during (or immediately after) its first season is always a bad sign. Now, though, it’s official: Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant’s half-hour “I’m an arrogant loser” vehicle, along with Christopher Guest’s Family Tree, have both been canceled.
My gut reaction to Hello Ladies is that it deserved this and worse. Its shortcomings were constant and glaring, and I wrote back in October that he was already failing in his attempt to present himself as both a superficial jerk and a heartbroken nerd worthy of our sympathies. Only in the finale, when Merchant’s Stuart Pritchard abandoned a hot date to help his friend, did we see a glimpse of anything approaching humanity. That might have been fine if there was commitment to a selfish worldview—see Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm—but by straddling that fence, Merchant failed before he began. And frankly, the comedy itself was a disappointment; lowbrow, with a surprising lack of redeeming intellect. If Hello Ladies had aired on a major network instead of HBO, it might not have even finished its original run.
On the other hand, I was charmed by Family Tree. Granted, this wasn’t a great comedy, and in the face of low ratings it makes sense that HBO pulled the plug. It was never going to reach cult status or spawn a rabid niche following. Still, it might have made strides toward excellence if given a second season. Here, we had many of the same elements as a Christopher Guest film—bizarre characters with obsessive passions, a fixation on strange objects and physical defects and secret insecurities brewing beneath every surface—but it never quite reached the hilarious peaks of Waiting For Guffman or Best In Show. It was a show with plenty of heart, but maybe not enough edge.