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Two women—a legend and a newbie—collide in this odd-couple bittersweet comedy centered in the male-dominated world of comedy.
Multi Emmy-award winner Jean Smart (from Designing Women to Mare of Easttown, plus dozens of shows in between) is joined by Hannah Einbinder, a feisty newcomer and comedy find. Einbinder may be a new face, but she has an impressive comedy pedigree as the daughter of Saturday Night Live original cast member Laraine Newman and writer Chad Einbinder, and niece to Emmy winner Tracy Newman (writer-producer of The Ellen Show and creator of According to Jim). Additionally, the show’s creating trio of Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky were writers working on Broad City together.
Imagine a job where the next sentence you say could make or break your livelihood. Talk about a rough room: see the cutthroat world of comedy today, from a female perspective.
Deborah Vance (Smart) is a showbiz veteran with a decades-spanning career, but now spends her days shuttling via private plane between her mansion in Las Vegas, where she has a standup residency at a casino, and the QVC studios, where she hocks her own line of “Everyday Luxuries.” When the casino’s owner (Christopher McDonald) tells her he wants to cut down her weekly performances in favor of hotter acts, she complains to her manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs), who sees an opportunity to solve two problems at once. Enter Ava (Einbinder), another of Jimmy’s clients, a struggling TV writer who’s lost her deal after a series of inappropriate tweets and can’t get hired anywhere. Jimmy comes up with the idea to pair the two of them together, providing a steady writing gig for Ava and a way for Deborah to broaden her appeal to a wider (and younger) audience.
This sets up the inevitable boomer versus millennial battle, with sparks flying. Watching them trade laugh-out-loud quips and insults is just one feature of this comedic delight. The show delves into the challenges for women in a mostly male profession; staying relevant and funny is a constant struggle. Factoring in how it’s more difficult for female comics to gain success than male comics, and seeing these two generations of women grapple with these issues makes Hacks an exciting show to watch, especially because it gives audiences a rare opportunity to see the double standards at work.
Joan Rivers may be deceased, but moments of Hacks seem like scenarios she may have experienced first hand: the constant battle to stay current, likable, and funny to as many people as possible while still being true to herself. Deborah’s past is marred by a public scandal that involved her burning down her ex-husband’s house after he left her for her sister. She coped with the fallout by making self-deprecating jokes about the incident (including doing a commercial for Duraflame logs) and even now, though she’s clearly not over it—as Ava astutely observes—she feels compelled to keep making them, because it’s what’s expected of her.
The two leads are complex, multifaceted personalities. Einbinder’s Ava is a chronic over sharer, announcing to Deborah in one of their first conversations that she’s bisexual, and a Bernie supporter. Jean Smart’s Deborah is warm and engaging on stage, but at home she’s as cold and empty as the china artifacts she obsessively collects. These women are brought together by two sides of the ageism coin. They draw strength from each other in their fight to not be cancelled by their respective cultures. There’s a clash of classes too, as nearly broke Ava is constantly flabbergasted by Deborah’s ultra-wealthy lifestyle, complete with her own private blackjack dealer, luxury cars, kitchen-counter soda fountain, private fishing pond, and more. The seemingly insurmountable tensions between the two of them is what makes their ultimate connection even more rewarding.
The strong performances and palpable chemistry and between seasoned pro Smart and new girl Einbinder should bring with it popularity and accolades. Expect Emmy nominations and definitely more seasons.
Fans of Seinfeld, Broad City, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Golden Girls, and most classic sit-coms will all find a character to root for and something to love about Hacks. A line from the show: “When you share a sense of humor with someone, you make each other better.”
Hacks showcases a duo of smart, ballsy babes with crackling wit. Many men (including comedy icon Jerry Lewis) have said, “Women aren’t funny.” Hacks may change their minds.