Hello Ladies: “The Drive” (Episode 1.08)Photo by Jaimie Trueblood, courtesy of HBO TV Reviews Hello Ladies
I’m disappointed in Hello Ladies. The show’s first seven episodes were an excellent series of dark, deeply felt comedic stories that almost never pulled their punches. Time after time they showed Stuart and his friends at their absolute worst as they searched for love and happiness in Los Angeles and failed to find it. Like the British Office, it warded off sentimentalism in a way that few shows on television have ever done, let alone few sitcoms. It had the bracing vision of a masterful independent film, casually flouting conventions not for the sake of it but simply because it was trying to tell a more truthful story.
And then, suddenly it wasn’t. I’m reminded of the ending of Breaking Bad here, a show that also went to some very dark places yet turned its last episode into a revenge fantasy so over-the-top that Travis Bickle would have applauded. There’s something very strange about a show as seemingly unconcerned with what the audience wants suddenly embracing all of the conventions of a genre, the conventions that also make them completely problematic. It’s not that the final episode of Hello Ladies is even a bad episode if that were what the series were about. It’s warm and fuzzy and as feel-good as any romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant, and there’s certainly a time and place for that. But that’s not why I enjoyed the show, nor what made it such an excellent and divisive piece of storytelling.
In any case, “The Drive” is a sort of odd rehash of “The Limo,” with Stuart and his friends going out for one last night together before Jessica moves out of Stuart’s house and into her new starring role. With this information in hand, she rubs her success in the face of Amelia only to learn soon afterwards that she’s already been removed. She tested badly, and so she’s off, end of story. She heads back home and desperately calls Glenn for support only to be rebuffed by his silence.
Most of the episode, though, is taken up with the gang hopping from party to party as Stuart tails his prospective date. Wade can’t take this waste of time and just wants to stalk his ex-wife, but Stuart for once acts as a real friend and rather than blankly reassuring him, he offers real advice that Wade needs to move on. I did appreciate the way this, after all the nastiness Stuart has thrown in his direction, is what finally makes Wade angry. And whatever my other feelings about the finale, it does lead to a sublime scene of Wade and Jessica wandering the streets having a heart-to-heart while shrieking to scare off coyotes. I may not have laughed harder all season.
The problem arrives when Stuart actually does find the model he’s been lusting after all these episodes. She takes him out to a beach for skinny-dipping, but now that Glenn has told him about Jessica he suddenly abandons her to return home and support his friend. These are not the choices of Stuart, though, they are the choices of writers who want the show to have an upbeat ending. But does it feel like Hello Ladies is building to this? I don’t think so, and perhaps your enjoyment of this episode will hinge on whether or not you agree.
Of course it’s the idea of the model that’s more important to Stuart than her actual presence. He’s perfectly happy to show pictures of her to everyone around, enjoying the status that it gives him, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also want to sleep with her. There’s a way in which Stuart’s choice here could be seen as a form of growth, but if so it’s unearned growth, a spontaneous decision that the show doesn’t lead us to. Just the opposite, in fact, as Stuart has always (including this very night) put his pursuit of women—and this model in particular—before his friends. I don’t want him to ignore Jessica, but ignoring his dream, right there in front of him, is a cop-out, not to mention a far less interesting choice. Anything that returns a show to a status quo is ultimately a poor method for giving it a satisfying conclusion, and the only character who moves forward in “The Drive” is Wade. That’s why his story feels so satisfying in contrast, as he’s earned it and this is an honest change. Oh, I should also mention the fact is that abandoning a woman naked at a beach at night seems like a pretty insane thing to do, too. I couldn’t help worrying about what happened to her after Stuart ran off, seemingly without a word.
What “The Drive” does is take the easiest, smarmiest route out of a very difficult and interesting narrative situation. That isn’t to say that Hello Ladies does a bad job at any of this, but it offers the same hollow joys as nearly every other show rather than the bold truthfulness it trafficked in for the rest of its run. I would still be thrilled if it turns out the show gets picked up for another season, because there’s nothing else like it being made, but I will also be hoping that if so its writers have gotten the rom-com out of their systems and are interested in doing something unique again.