The Merchant/Gervais brand of comedy is an acquired taste, and given many reactions to Hello Ladies so far, I suspect people who watched the British version of The Office years ago have forgotten just how difficult that show was to watch, too. While American alternative comedy has never had much of a problem making its audiences cringe, what most viewers here are trained on is ultimately happy and sentimental. Hello Ladies, despite its humor, isn’t a show you can have on in the background, and it isn’t escapist. Instead, its comedy is highly confrontational, and its devastating emotional moments can be difficult to separate from its devastating physical moments.
“Long Beach” may have been the show’s most perfect mix of humor and drama yet, with all three of its storylines taking the show into a new, interesting area. The title comes from Stuart’s trip to Long Beach with the contractors who are fixing his guest house’s roof. After showing us Stuart contorting himself to impress women, it’s nice to see that he does this to men as well, hoping to impress them with his manliness. Once he’s down there, it doesn’t take much peer pressure to get him doing cocaine in a men’s room stall with a guy he barely knows or drinking “Pube Juice” from a guy named, of course, Pube. His lack of self-esteem or identity is sad to watch in action, but at least it’s a slightly different tinge of sad than what we normally see displayed.
It was also nice to see “Long Beach” take Hello Ladies outside its comfort zone of upper-class to rich living for a little while. Stuart does live in a comfortable cocoon, and leaving him within it had limited the show’s options so far. The show has an odd, slightly skewed sense of class in general, but at least it’s consistently willing to bring up this subject that’s so often taboo. The entire story worked surprisingly well, and I hope this sort of thing happens more in the future, though with only two episodes left that’s not likely to happen, especially given its not particularly wonderful ratings (nor does it have much of a critical following).
Meanwhile, Wade’s 30 days without contacting his wife have come to an end. He asks Jessica for help impressing her, and they decide that because his wife’s favorite movie is An Officer and a Gentlemen he should pick her up at work. It goes badly, of course, and while she appreciates what he tried to do, she still wants a divorce. This part of the show is always a bit strange because Wade seems like a very loving man, not to mention an excellent father, but the show still asks us to believe that she wants their marriage to end for a very good reason. It would be nice to get the whole story here, but at least what we do have on-screen is consistently excellent. Like with Stuart’s story, it’s rough to watch, not because of oncoming embarrassment but rather because it’s a very well-acted, believable end to their marriage. It feels like we shouldn’t be invited to see any of this, but the camera lingers on Wade crying as he looks at his daughter’s drawings.
Wade’s daughter also has an effect on Jessica, who’s asked what exactly her relationship with Glenn is. Once he finally comes over, she brings this up to him and he more or less says that if she wants them to be more than fuck buddies, he wants out. With this threat on the table, she clumsily retracts her attempt at turning him into a real boyfriend and sleeps with him.
Suffice to say, nothing goes well for any of these characters, and their stories’ conclusions range from sad to pathetic to just plain dark; needless to say, this is difficult to watch. But there’s also something powerful and a bit mesmerizing about the show’s commitment to never pulling punches for these characters. Hello Ladies toyed with viewers’ expectations at the beginning of “Long Beach” by having Jessica and Stuart in bed together, but it’s an obvious joke even before anything’s said because that would be too easy. Jessica and Stuart are much too compatible to find each other attractive, so I doubt anything like that will ever happen on the show. It’s what viewers want, it’s entertaining and easy to digest and ultimately suggests that there’s a happy ending in these characters’ search for love—all of which is to say that it’s antithetical to everything Hello Ladies is ultimately about.