TV preview: The Tunnel | Hello Ladies

Scene from Hello Ladies. Picture: Sky
Scene from Hello Ladies. Picture: Sky
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Did you catch the Danish/Swedish series The Bridge when it was shown on BBC4 last year? If not – or if you missed the denouement – there’s another chance to see how this cross-border crime drama turns out, with roughly 50 per cent fewer subtitles.

The plot is the same: a body is found halfway between the two, straddling the midpoint of the Channel Tunnel – the series is the first to be allowed to film there – sparking a joint police investigation. That adds a language issue (“don’t worry,” says one French cop dryly as the British approach, “they all speak French nowadays” – and also a new political dimension: is the divided body a metaphor for our traditional half-in, half-out stance on the European Union?

Clemence Poesy is just as good as the autistic, rule-driven French detective Elise (Saga in the Swedish version), while Stephen Dillane is actually more appealing than the original as her slobby, humorous British counterpart. That may not be enough to keep the attention of those who’ve already seen the story play out once – and there is also an American/Mexican remake out there which may end up on our screens too – but for newcomers this is an involving and subtle crime drama. And it’s encouraging to see Sky increasing the quality of its home-grown productions.

But, of course, it still depends on imports and the latest is HBO’s Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant’s first sitcom without Ricky Gervais. As there’s recently been a backlash against Gervais, thanks to the egregiously embarrassing Derek and his often-annoying public persona, many have started to argue that Merchant was the “real” talent behind The Office. Yet what’s instantly notable about Hello Ladies – which he co-created with writers for the American version of The Office – is how very familiar it seems.

Merchant plays a British web designer living in LA and attempting to get with various interchangeable women. But a combination of natural awkwardness and regular idiocy put them off and he ends up in stupid situations of his own making. Only with flatmate Jessica (Christine Woods) can he relax; in fact, they are basically Andy and Maggie from Extras. There is a sad-sack pal – half ‘Barry from EastEnders’ from Extras, half the fictionalised ‘Warwick Davis’ from Life’s Too Short – and another who is more or less Finchy from The Office but in a wheelchair.

In other words, the show proves quite firmly that Merchant had just as much creative input into those post-Office series as Gervais and that he doesn’t feel the need to break the formula. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t work: the situations are too contrived and lines which probably looked funny on the page drop flatly on screen. His character Stuart is only likeable when hanging out with Jessica and is slightly creepy otherwise. The pace drags. Still, at least it’s not Derek.