Tag Archives: The Ricky Gervais Show

Hello Ladies with Stephen Merchant

stephen-merchant-shines-as-desperate-casanova-in-hbo-comedy-hello-ladiesI was planning to love this show from the start, because I love Stephen Merchant.  I would definitely marry him, despite the fact that he is about 1 foot taller than me, probably weighs less than me, and sometimes looks like a stick insect. I’ve loved him since the Ricky Gervais Show, and have loved all of his work with Ricky.

On the other hand, his character in this show is pretty unlikable at times.  He walks a very fine line. He’s an asshole about 90% of the time, but he does come through in the end.  Barely.

Stephen plays Stuart Pritchard, a web designer living in L.A. and trying to find a lady.  He rents his guest house to Jessica (Christine Woods), a struggling actress.

helloladies04__1381442741_93.107.148.139He’s got a best friend named Wade, who has just separated from his wife and is not doing very well.  He’s obsessed with a model he’s seen on a billboard, and convinced that if he met her, she would be perfect for him.

Here’s the problem with Stuart–he’s really stupid.  Not…intellectually, but in terms of awareness of other people.  He really believes that if he could just get the most attractive girl, then suddenly he’ll feel wonderful about his life.  So he tries, desperately and obviously, to gain the attention of beautiful women. He will throw off one woman if he sees another, more attractive woman that might want him.  It’s painfully obvious, and his biggest crime is that he really cannot see how obvious it is.  He’s inconsiderate, embarrassing, and hard to watch.

On the other hand, he is inevitably punished for every terrible thing he does.  In almost every episode, he manages to manufacture his own downfall. He tries to throw a huge bash of a pool party, hoping it will turn into a scene from Spring Breakers or Project X. The party starts out slow, and he gets very annoyed with the quality of people who have turned up.  He scares off the only attractive women who show up, and then leaves out of frustration.  As he is leaving, a big group of hot girls shows up at the party.  Stuart tries to get back in, but he is blocked by the security that he insisted upon having (to keep out undesirables).

His cloying attempts to be successful with women are his Achilles’ heel, inevitably leading to utter disaster.  So that instills a certain sense of pleasurable self-righteousness in the viewing.  He always gets exactly what he deserves. We see that every time, but he seems a little slow to recognize it.

And how genius is Stephen Merchant (or whomever came up with it) for calling this show Hello Ladies.  There is no situation where a straight man can say that phrase to a group of women without sounding creepy and weird.  It can’t be done; I’m convinced of it.

Can I say that I am so glad I don’t live in L.A.? I can’t think of a single worse place for trying to find a real relationship.  I would go out of my mind.

The show is very funny, but it is the classic British ‘cringe comedy’.  You want to look away because you are so embarrassed for the characters.  It’s a fine line in this type of show, and sometimes I think Hello Ladies steps just a bit over.  I mean, surely Stuart must get it eventually?!

I will say that, in the end, he did eventually do the right thing.  I’m sure there will be 2 steps back for every half-step forward with this character, so if there is a season 2 (I hope there is!), I expect him to make up for being a good guy by behaving like a moron for several episodes in a row.

My boyfriend’s only complaint about the show is that it seems too obvious that Jessica and Stuart will end up together.  If they do ever get together, I think it won’t be until Stephen finds someone who might actually be a-interested in him and b-a real person, rather than his paragon ideal of what he wants.  Right now, Jessica is the only ‘real’ woman in his life–one that he sees as a person, rather than as an accessory to prove his virility/success/popularity. I don’t see her showing any feelings for him unless there’s another genuine human being in his life that is interested in him.

That being said, I honestly hope they stay friends.  It would be far more interesting for me to see a friendship between them, while they both try to find the right person, rather than resorting to the tried-and-true  ‘I couldn’t find the right person because they were standing next to me the whole time’ rom-com standard.

I know the show hasn’t gotten great reviews, but I think it improved a lot by the end of the season, and would probably get better with a few more episodes.  I hope HBO gives it another shot.

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TV review: Derek with Ricky Gervais

Derek series posterRicky Gervais’ new series, Derek, just finished its first season in the UK.  It will be airing exclusively on Netflix in the US later this year (no premier date yet).  It’s only six episodes, but a second season in the UK has already been announced.

There was a lot of controversy before the show started, when it got out that Ricky was playing a man who seemed to be mentally disabled.  I think most of the controversy dried up when people actually saw the show. I don’t think it’s offensive at all–it might even be a bit too safe.

The show features Ricky as the eponymous Derek, possibly the nicest man in the world.  If there is one thing this show is about, it’s about valuing kindness over all other traits.  Derek cares about everyone and every living creature, and the show illustrates how much more valuable that is than qualities like intelligence, material success, A level scores, etc.  Derek works in a nursing home; it’s his whole life.  I can’t tell you what he does exactly (in terms of a job). It seems like he is more of a companion to the residents, and he’s very good at that.  He genuinely cares about all of them.

His best friend is Hannah,

hannahwho runs the nursing home.  She is one of those women who takes care of everyone and doesn’t have much of a life on her own. She puts all of her energy into her job and truly wants to take care of all of the people who live in and work at the home.  She makes me, honestly and truly, feel like a pretty terrible person by comparison.

To make me feel better, there is Karl Pilkington (and a hilarious wig) as Dougie.

slide_277704_2042719_freeDougie is the handyman in the nursing home.  He’s not as kind as Hannah or Derek–he is more willing to say what is on his mind and more likely to be irritated by other people.  Who knew Karl could act? He’s actually really good!  Now, there are a lot of similarities between him and his character.  In my preview of this series, I noted these similarities:

He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

And I stand by that post.  He’s very similar to what I know of him through An Idiot Abroad and The Ricky Gervais Show–though all of these shows give us Karl through Ricky’s eyes (and editing skills), so I wouldn’t presume to actually know him.  At any rate, Dougie is perpetually annoyed, but his annoyance is geared toward people who truly deserve it.  One high point of the series is when Dougie throws out the money-grubbing daughter of a woman who has just died, because she is a heinous person only concerned with getting her mother’s things now that she’s gone.  Dougie is my hero in that episode.

There’s also Kev

derek_kev_2Derek’s friend and the least likeable of the main characters.  He is sex-obsessed, crass, and generally unliked, but his friendship with Derek and the clear evidence that he is full of shit make the audience realize that he isn’t all bad.  If he was an asshole in the exact same way and also handsome/successful, then he would be unforgivable.  The fact that he is horribly unsuccessful in life and with women make his boasts and pronouncements less offensive and more sad.

In the background there are a litany of secondary characters from the fringes of life.  There are chavvy teenagers, assigned to do community service at the nursing home, the heinous people from the city council threatening to shut the place down, and of course the residents themselves.  I kind of love Derek for the simple fact that it shows people we don’t normally see on TV.  For how many hours of super fancy people on Selling New York or The Bachelor or Real Housewives of Whichever City, you’re only likely to see a regular person on shows like Hoarders or My Strange Addiction.  It’s lovely to see people represented on TV that normally wouldn’t be, and I hope it gives everyone a greater respect for older people, even though the show is inherently more rose-colored than reality must be.

Let me start with a warning about this show.  I cried during every single episode.  It is emotional; it is schmaltzy.  Some critics think the emotion has gone too far, into the realm of absolute sentimental tripe.  I think there are arguments for that.  After all, you never seem too controversial by showing how great it would be if everyone was kind to one another.  On the other hand, very few of us have the capacity to be as kind and as selfless as Hannah and Derek.  There are, undoubtedly, people who work in a caretaker capacity that are just like them.  But there are also people who take advantage of their situation to do horrible things, and there are people who become burnt out by what they are seeing on a day-to-day basis and become apathetic or cold-hearted as a result.  Derek portrays a world free from those types.  There are your occasional villains who come in (like the couple mentioned above, visiting only to get a hold of a family ring), but they leave.  Everyone there is forgivable and forgiving, and cares about the residents in their care.  I don’t know how accurate that is.

The show is genuinely funny, but you’re more likely to spend your time crying than laughing.

The show is very clearly a Ricky Gervais project, but at the same time it is quite different.  No matter how crass and unlikeable Ricky can be when he is confronting the world as himself (I have a coworker that loathes him completely), his works always have a good heart and good people behind them.  In The Office, Tim and Dawn are the heart of the show, but by the end of the run you do truly care for David Brent and for Gareth.  The only real villain of the piece is Chris Finch, and we see him put firmly in his place during the special (my favorite moment ever).  In Extras and Life’s Too Short, you see an egotistical, foolish, deeply flawed, very negative main character, but the show always makes clear that these traits are not rewarding.  In the end, these characters focus their energy on their personal relationships and not on the success they so long for.  That same sense of good and kindness is the main centerpiece of Derek, but Derek approaches it in a different way.  It’s there from the absolute beginning, as the prevailing quality of the main character.

It is schmaltzy, and it is sensationalist (to use the old definition of causing sensations), but it is cathartic to see and experience what life might be like if we were all a little less smart and a little more kind. It made me cry to the point of extreme discomfort on more than one occasion (especially the finale), but it did feel good afterward.  I really enjoyed the show and will definitely be watching the second season.

Ricky as Derek with dogs

Ricky Gervais news

Yesterday, Ricky came out with some news that I’m honestly not thrilled about.  He’s said, on his blog, that he doesn’t plan to continue with the Ricky Gervais Show, Life’s Too Short or with An Idiot Abroad after this year.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, as this past year was the first time he ever did any project that lasted beyond two seasons and a Christmas special.  As for the Ricky Gervais Show, which takes bits from his popular podcast with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington, he claims he has gone through the best stuff from the original podcasts for the show, so it’s really about running out of material.

But I think it’s mostly about a fear of commitment.  He wants to have these perfect little runs with everything he does, so he backs out just as they’re sort of hitting their stride.  Going out on a high note I guess.  And I think some US shows could maybe take a page from his book (Veronica Mars, I’m looking at you), but it also is a bit annoying to constantly get attached to a project he’s doing and then it’s over two minutes later.

Ricky said he will do two specials to end An Idiot Abroad.  I’m not 100% clear on whether these specials are the same as the ‘Short Way Round’ project he is working on, where Karl and Warwick Davis travel about on a scooter. I suspect they are one in the same, because how long can you film those two on a scooter? First of all, it’s a scooter, so they’re not going to be traveling the world at a very high rate of speed.  It’s meant to be a spoof on the popular British shows Long way Round and Long Way Down, which featured Ewan MacGregor and his friend Charley Boorman on motorcycles doing epic trips around the globe.  But they could go a proper 80 miles per hour on good roads.  How’s a Vespa going to fair in the Sahara?  We’ll have to wait and see. Even if they’re epic trek is from London to the Cotswolds, I’ll be tuning in.

As for Life’s Too Short, they have confirmed a second season and Ricky said he has written a finale, so it will follow the two seasons and a Christmas Easter special pattern. To be expected, really.

Ricky did mention a lot of new projects he’s working on.  The main one is a show called Derek, which he shot a pilot for Channel 4 in the UK earlier this year, and he will be producing a few more episodes later in the year.  He has said he wants a US airing, and I’m sure it’s in negotiations.  My guess would be with HBO, as aired his comedy specials, Ricky Gervais Show, and Life’s Too Short. Plus, you can swear.

My only concern with this show is that it doesn’t seem as accessible to an American audience as the others he’s made.

The show features Ricky as Derek, a potentially intellectually sub-normal retirement home worker, and also has Karl in his acting debut as the janitor/handyman type at the retirement home.

There was a lot of controversy when it first came out because people have accused Ricky of playing up a mental disability for laughs, but Ricky says that Derek is not disabled, only a bit slow.  I think a lot of the criticism has died down since the pilot aired.

My concerns with an American audience are that:

a-it seems very entrenched in an aspect of British society that doesn’t usually make it to this side of the pond.  The lives of the uneducated, the decidedly not-posh, the poor.  The type of people you see in the supermarket or something and you know they are either not trying to live an active life, or they are unaware of the impression they’re putting out. Usually, the shows that make it to the US feature at least educated professionals, if not the out and out wealthy.

b-We are a lot more sensitive to p.c.-ness on this side of the pond.  I remember being absolutely shocked at the blatant sexual harassment in the Office, and I know that’s not something that would fly on an American show.  Ricky himself has said that for the US Office all the characters had to be much more likeable than they were in the original show.  So I think the controversy over Derek in the UK will be more of a big deal here.

Even if he is not purposefully portraying a disabled man, he is obviously portraying a man of sub-par intelligence, and he is walking a very thin line between making that character loveable and heartwarming, and playing up his stupidity for a laugh.  Ricky likes to toe that line in all of his work.  But I think there’s a big difference with this. In Life’s Too Short, you would find yourself laughing at Warwick Davis’ character.  You wouldn’t be laughing at him for being a little person, but for being a smart person doing incredibly stupid things.  In Derek, you have someone of normal intelligence playing someone of below average intelligence, and you are meant to laugh at him for being a bumbling moron. There’s a big difference in that, for me. You’re meant to care about him, and like him, but also laugh at him.  I think that we Americans find that much harder than the Brits.  Maybe that’s just me?

But I have watched the pilot, which is up on YouTube.  I’m not sure the legality of that, but I’ll risk incarceration to give you my opinion.

I really love the Hannah character, who is sort of a female Tim (Martin Freeman from the Office UK)–the everyman of the show that we can relate to and we genuinely root for.

Karl Pilkington’s ‘character’ seems to me to be just him being himself, with a bit of fake hair and some glasses.  He complains a lot, likes to fix things, doesn’t know why he’s friends with Ricky.  Check, check, check.

I did find it very difficult to laugh at Derek, because he is obviously a bit odd and not very clever.  What shocked me the most, I think, is that I cried. I cried more than I laughed, which is certainly a departure from a lot of stuff like An Idiot Abroad.

I think the bottom line is that I trust Ricky as an auteur, as a story-teller.  I don’t think that Derek will be a huge hit here, but I do hope it airs on HBO or similar. I will definitely watch it, but I’m sad that all of his other projects are ending, all in the next year. And I’m going to miss Stephen Merchant being on my TV!