Hacks: Season One
June 10, 2021 7:49 PM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

A dark mentorship forms between Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a legendary Las Vegas comic, and an entitled, outcast 25-year-old comedy writer (Hannah Einbinder).

Streaming in the US on HBO Max.
posted by DirtyOldTown (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:03 PM on June 10, 2021 [10 favorites]

Jean Smart is so good in this.
It's very much like Mare of Easttown in that the writing is good but not great however the performances elevate it to another level.

The last three episodes are extraordinary.
posted by fullerine at 12:14 AM on June 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

I was always going to watch this because, as noted, JEAN SMART, but the rest of the cast was great too. If you haven't seen it yet, it's only 10 episodes, they pretty much get better the whole way through and you should definitely watch.

I did think the writing was kind of clunky in bits. I did not care at all about the Hannah character for at least 4 episodes - I am aware her unlikeability and growth are part of the point, thanks, but I also found her boring to start. And she's a big part of the first few episodes, whereas I felt like the focus got more balanced between Hannah and Deborah as the show moved on. If I didn't love Jean Smart so much, I might not have followed through and that would have been a shame.

By the last couple episodes, Hannah has a personality beyond defensive sneering sarcasm - I think Einbender does a good job opening up as the character does. I'm not sure I get why they needed to - spoilers ahoy, if you're skimming to see if you want to watch - have her one night stand commit suicide and have her need to refuse her adorable father a trip to see her immediately before his very telegraphed death. I guess the writers wanted to give her a decent dose of trauma to match Deborah's own? But in both cases, as the viewer, I could tell these things were going to end poorly (though I admit, I thought the suicide guy was just going to get arrested or something) and it was unpleasant waiting for the shoe to drop. And people can grow and bond without traumatic experiences - it just felt excessive to me. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Hannah needs to put her phone away when she has taken drugs! is my main takeaway from her plot. Assuming the initial tweet that leads to her blackballing was also under the influence, she makes at least 3 terrible communication decisions under the influence in this limited series. Girl, live and learn.

All the supporting cast is great, and I would happily watch a spinoff of Jimmy and Kayla's terrible working relationship, DJ's adventures as a MA wife/jewelry entrepreneur, Kiki making her relationship with her 3 year old work, or, especially, Marcus trying to make it work with Wilson and also his mom, heh. I would not watch a whole show about Hannah's mom - couldn't handle that level of cringe - but she was also hilarious in small doses.

This has been renewed for a 2nd season, which is awesome - a tour has a lot of potential for cool episodes, but if they're touring, I hope we still get bits with the various Las Vegan characters.
posted by the primroses were over at 6:45 AM on June 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

You're gonna oof and I am sorry but, uh, the character's name is Ava. Hannah is the actor.

Mostly agree with your critique of her, though. Our main problem with her was that as a comedy writer, she usually seemed wildly overmatched by Deborah. As the season went on though, we came to the conclusion that maybe that was intentional and her role is to recharge Deborah and help her find something more authentic, not to actually wrote the great jokes herself.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:58 AM on June 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ha, yup, Ava is the character. In my defense, the joke about her palindrome name holding her back from the cool kids circle in high school works either way. In further corrections to my previous hasty comment, DJ is a MMA (as in cage fighter) wife, not a MA (Massachusetts) wife.

I'm not sure we're supposed to think Deborah's a better writer, though definitely a more seasoned and better comic. I'll be interested to see how much Ava works on her own craft in the second season. She hasn't found her voice yet. I think the show is as much about her career as Deborah's, but we'll see where the focus goes in the next season.

I will say that I wish they had not revealed the tweet that got Ava in trouble, because the one they came up with was so bland. It would be hard to pick a joke offensive enough to get her canceled without going hard on unlikable, but that one flopped. On the other hand, their riffing off it to find a better joke and Deborah's racing after her to cut her off with her car and hire her was a great scene, and they needed to go with some concrete joke to set that off.
posted by the primroses were over at 7:30 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

More than anything, this show has just made me feel old. Jean Smart is wonderful, and I'll watch anything she's in. I just found myself relating so much more to her character even though I'm probably closer in age to Ava and decades younger than Deborah.
posted by emelenjr at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Spoilers aplenty for all 10 episodes

I watched it as the episodes dropped (2 weekly), so I needed that reminder of the first episode above. It also set up how tough Deborah is, because Ava had just thoroughly insulted her, and it seemed she was racing to make a retort. Instead, her comic mind couldn't help trying to think of "a better joke" then the lame tweet.

Deborah is such an amazing complicated character. She started out seeming so harsh and unlikable, but a combo of writing nuance and Smart's great performance, has made me like her.

The tone of Suicide Guy episode (#5) was weirdly different than other episodes. And I'm bored by Ava's love life, as opposed to Deborah's whole life, or even Marcus's and Wilson ("water cop").

I'm not sure if my issues are that Ava's more 2D, that Einbinder isn't as good an actor, or generational (I'm Deborah's age group).
Speaking of which, I'll bet Einbinder's RL mother has a lot of anecdotes about men in comedy, esp. SNL.

I think the writing is pretty decent, better than Mare, if we're comparing apples and oranges.

The more you think about the episodes, the more you pick up on subtleties. Like, when Ava having lied about where she's going, runs out of the theater, casually calling back "love you." The look on Deborah's face. She is growing very attached to Ava, while Ava waffles more.

Also, in ep 8, the one about shitty men in comedy, Deborah and her old friend mentioned she "doesn't do funerals." Yet two episodes later, she flies all the way to Ava's father's service.

(That episode was hard for me, knowing that Smart's husband died around that time, and because I myself had just tried funny anecdotes at a service - my mother's - not long ago.)

Speaking of shitty men, for that hotel owner to have slept with Deborah when she was already vulnerable, and he was about to kick her out of her gig - ugh. But I like that actor. Every single supporting actor is fabulous.
posted by NorthernLite at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

I know Jean Smart has won Emmy awards before, bit not in a while. And the last five or so years of her work has been some of her finest, which is to say some of the finest, and it's shocking she isn't hip deep in recent trophies.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I hadn't noticed Jean Smart since Designing Women (IMDb shows that she's been steadily working, just not in stuff I watched), but after Fargo, Legion, Mare of Easttown, and Hacks I'm now ready to just hand her an Emmy any year she has a project going on.
posted by haileris23 at 8:23 AM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree that a lot of the micro-level decisions the show makes with writing and plot threads don't really land with me. Marty's relationship with Deborah is all over the place; their one-night stand at the end of episode 7 seemed engineered to deliver a poignant ending. Ideally, Deborah and Ava would've endeared themselves to one another gradually over the course of the series, but it seems like most of that happens over the course of a montage in episode 8. The conflict between Marcus and Ava toward the end of the season could've been handled much more gracefully.

But I still like the show and I'm still going to watch season 2. They've done some great world-building, and Jean Smart's performance in particular helps to smooth over a lot of these cracks.

The hardest thing about writing a show about stand-up comedians is that the stand-up comedy actually has to be funny. I was a bit nervous toward the beginning about the mediocre jokes I heard Deborah telling on stage until it became clear that those jokes were meant to come off as mediocre. I had flashbacks to Studio 60 and its mediocre sketch comedy that it was trying to pass off as groundbreaking. I was disappointed that we didn't hear much of her new material, though, to illustrate the contrast. The $1.69M bit was good, but then we don't get anything from her new hour (because they have to hide the ball from us about her bombing).

The scenes with Ava and her parents were fucking heartbreaking and felt like they had been transcribed from someone's lived experience. Jane Adams is note-perfect. The best writing of the season happens when Ava is making herself small in the face of her mother's anxieties. It's touching how Ava makes herself the bad guy when talking her dad out of flying to visit her — especially later, when it appears as if that's the last conversation they ever had.

All the pieces are there for a good Season 2. Ava is becoming a better person; I hope the writers bestow her with enough wisdom to realize how L.A., this place she loves, is slowly poisoning her. I also hope we see a better fictional casino than the one based on the fucking Palazzo, the ugliest casino on the Strip.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:05 PM on June 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

How did it not go wildly viral when Deborah gave that shitty comedian $1.69MM to STFU forever?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:03 PM on June 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I assumed that's where that bit was going with Drew taking the $1.69M. When Kayla calls Ava right after, I thought we were going to hear about Deborah going viral.

I loved this, and in the past three weeks, I've watched Jean Smart in Fargo season 2, Mare of Easttown, and this. She deserves any hardware anyone wants to throw at her. She is so good at being the stand-up onstage, with her fans, at her appearances. At some point in the early episodes, I was so impressed with her professionalism, and I think we're supposed to see Deborah as having that. She's a pro with a ridiculous work ethic. And she's not untalented or aged out of being talented, but she's made the safe choice. I love that Marcus is that side of her, and when she decides to take risks, she chooses the fabulous shoes too.

After the first episode, I realized that the staff of this show draws heavily from The Good Place and Broad City, two of my favorite comedies. No wonder I loved it.
posted by gladly at 12:18 PM on June 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'll be mean - I'm kind of pissed at how bad the writing on this show is, especially since it looks like it was designed by formula to appeal to me (showbiz! standup! gen z vs. boomers!) and I'm shocked it got such great reviews. The conflict is driven in such a clumsy way, while some of the intriguing parts are just skipped right over - for instance, when Marcus gets promoted to "CEO" and just immediately gets in a big fight with his boyfriend because once you get a 10% raise you can't go on a trip anymore? The show would rush and force the shit out of situations like this, so much labored drama, and then leave out things that I really wanted to see - like as others have pointed out, I wanted to see Deborah's amazing moment on stage in Sacramento go viral (which it clearly would!) and all of the reactions to it the next day! I found myself starting new episodes like, "uh, wait a minute, did I skip one?" since it felt like so much was left out between each one. It was like trimming off all the tastiest parts of a prime cut of steak and over-seasoning what was left.

On top of this, just didn't find any of it funny! For a comedy about a lazy hacky comedian it had some lazy hacky "ummmm, AWKWARDDD" humor - telling a job interview you'd prefer to keep your dignity and then getting up to leave but falling down, har har. And as someone said above, the tweet that got her "cancelled" was just so milquetoast (it's difficult to imagine even the most obnoxiously edgelord "offensive" joke about republicans in the year of our lord 2021 that would so cross the line it would get you effectively blacklisted).

So look, I'm glad it was renewed because I want to keep watching this show and want it to get better, and I love the subject matter and themes. And Jean Smart is perfect, no doubt. But overall, this is like a C+ show hiding under an A+ concept and I'm mostly frustrated! Maybe others are too, I know a lot of people liked it just fine but I had some issues with each episode that really took me out of the zone while watching, which is too bad, because I was so looking forward to it.
posted by windbox at 5:09 PM on June 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

I really liked some of this (Jean Smart's acting, the mother-daughter relationships), and I no longer hated Ava by the end of the series, which is a big improvement. I'm not sure why everyone acts like she's a genius comedy writer, but that's always an issue in fiction that is about brilliant fiction. (See: Mrs Maisel, but it's often an issue in novels about brilliant novelists.)

I do not believe for one billionth of a second that Ava wasn't non-disclosured to the hilt.

The last episode, with her father's death -- maybe it was too telegraphed but this sort of "we all pretend to ourselves he's much less sick then he is, then he dies, then instead of having to have scheduled visitors in a garage during a pandemic they got a real funeral and everyone told stories about how much they loved him and how wonderful he was" hit me a little too hard and i've been crying since that scene.
posted by jeather at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2021

I think the deal with the joke is that it wasn't that bad — Ava is just that unpleasant that once there was cover to "cancel" her, her peers did.
posted by purpleclover at 3:00 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Aw, I had not looked at Hannah Einbinder's wikipedia page, but I have to admit that now that I have, I'm pretty deflated in that old "Oh, THAT'S how she got the job" way. (I like her and her performance and the show, but the nepotism is relentless.)
posted by purpleclover at 3:08 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

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