If the freshman season of Stephen Merchant’s toe-curling comedy “Hello Ladies” were as funny and engaging as the 80-minute finale, HBO might have never pulled the plug in the first place.

The series debuted last year starring Merchant in all his gawky, 6-foot, 7-inch glory. He plays Stuart, a successful web designer trying to parlay his big bank account and English accent into a seat at the cool kids’ table — and the bed of every beauty he meets in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.

Much like the British original of “The Office,” which Merchant co-created with his frequent partner-in-comedic-crime, Ricky Gervais, “Hello Ladies” started as a show built on bad behavior, the kind of cringe-inducing comedy executed so well in HBO’s long-running “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The difference is “Hello Ladies” was all about making the audience squirm without rewarding our discomfort with belly laughs or any reason to care about the protagonist.

Thankfully both of these carrots dangle from the stick that is the show’s send-off, which has Stuart — or Stuart 2.0 — trying to convince his ex-girlfriend and her wanker of a husband that he’s “won at life.”

Sure, he’s still the guy who brings boxed wine to a yacht party, takes advantage of Nicole Kidman’s kindness and couldn’t manage to talk dirty with a mouthful of mud. But this time around Stuart has a vulnerability that makes him a lot more enjoyable to watch, even if the steps he makes toward maturity and genuine love feel a bit rushed in this home stretch.


9 p.m. Saturday, HBO

Rating: [s3r star=3.5/4]