There was something excruciating about the HBO series “Hello Ladies,” which lasted only one season. The 6-foot-7 Stephen Merchant, best known for the classics “The Office” and “Extras” with Ricky Gervais, played a Brit named Stuart on the prowl for sex with models in LA. Whenever he and his geeky buds hit on women in bars, which was frequently, we were faced with painfully awkward banter laced with misogynist insults and ultimately, the sight of women walking away in open disgust. Stuart and his friends should have had bruised egos, but they weren’t emotionally intelligent enough to know that.
Stuart was monomaniacal in his pursuit, a gender cliché presented for our humorous examination, a portrait of a buffoon as a failed lothario. But throughout “Hello Ladies,” which HBO canceled due to low ratings, many of us wondered if there was a decent guy underneath Stuart’s bluster. That was the way to tolerate all the cringe — with a vague sense that Stuart was ultimately quite sympathetic. Was he a creep because he had been bruised by lost love and built walls of self-protection? Was there even an innocence about him, one we could see in his easy, platonic relationship with Jessica (Christine Woods), the woman renting his pool house?
Those questions are answered in “Hello Ladies: The Movie,” a slight but enjoyable new HBO film that wraps up the story lines from the series and sends Stuart & Co. off into the future. The series finale movie is a bit of a tradition for Merchant, who made the same kind of extended farewell special for both “The Office” and “Extras.” It’s a great way to finish out a series without having to cram resolution into a half-hour. “Hello Ladies: The Movie” accomplishes the necessary closure effectively, letting us know exactly who Stuart is, and it adds in last twists for Jessica and for Stuart’s pathetic divorced pal Wade (Nate Torrence). We also spend a bit of time with Rory, Stuart’s lovably feckless assistant played by Kyle Mooney of “Saturday Night Live.”
One of the best scenes in the finale, which premieres Saturday night at 10, features Nicole Kidman. Merchant and Gervais had a lot of fun with celebrity cameos on “Extras,” getting the celebrities (including Kate Winslet and David Bowie) to play along and riff on their own images. Merchant evokes the same playful spirit in Kidman, as Stuart approaches her at a party and asks her to pretend to know him in front of his friends. Other movie highlights include a painfully strained effort at making dirty talk and the scenes of Jessica — an unsuccessful actress — auditioning for a yogurt commercial.
While the cast is consistently amusing and all of the pathos and awkwardness is earned, the overall story line in “Hello Ladies: The Movie” is somewhat underwhelming and hackneyed. The arc of the movie is too simplistic; a little indirection and mystery along the way would have helped. And at one point, Jessica agrees to pretend to be Stuart’s date when Stuart is trying to impress a few old friends, which is a twist out of the big book of romcom clichés. Will they like faking a relationship so much that they’ll make it real? Not very fresh.
But still, the movie is a pleasant last chapter in Merchant’s tale of lonely men. With an easy, familiar swan song, “Hello” says goodbye.