It’s easy to develop this feeling of being jaded as one goes through each of these releases from various networks in an attempt to write a review before they release. However, in a sea of similar shows with identical premises, one can sneak up on you in the best way possible, and such is the case with Hacks, which releases its first 2 episodes of a 10-episode season on HBO Max May 13th.
Perhaps the best way to describe my state of mind was being blindsided. A Show about a legendary Las Vegas comedian and the bond she forms with a 25-year-old entitled comedy writer didn’t strike me as having the potential of being one of the best of 2021, yet here we are. Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, and Jen Statsky have created an edgy show that provides us a snapshot of the male-centric and social media-driven nature of entertainment. If anyone had any doubt that women had a tougher time making it in Hollywood, this show should erase that.
Hacks centers around Legendary Las Vegas Entertainer Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), who is struggling to maintain all of her dates at a Casino she’s headlined for years. When the owner (played by Christopher McDonald) informs Vance that her dates are now being cut, she is faced with either taking the news or finding a way to freshen up her act. Ava (Hannah Einbinder) struggles to recover after losing her writing deal because of a tweet she posted that was deemed offensive. It’s either take whatever job she can or lose everything. Eventually, their agent realizes these two could help one another and tricks them into a meeting that goes horribly wrong. Deborah has massive trust issues, and Ava thinks that everything is beneath her. To say that these two are an odd couple would be an understatement.
The show elevates when Ava digs into how Deborah struggled even to get where she is today. Sometimes that even involved refusing to acknowledge the truth to appease the masses. When Vance found that her husband had been cheating on her, it nearly broke her. Finding out that he was stepping out on Deborah with her sister made it so much worse. She had attempted to balance family and a career, and it led to this.
To make matters worse, their home ends up burning down in a fire caused by their dryer, but he ends up blaming Deborah, which everyone believed because Vance ended up turning it into a bit for her act. She allows others to dictate the truth no matter how much pain it caused her. For Deborah, being on stage and in the spotlight is all she knows. Never mind being a mother; this is who she is.
While Ava is initially brought on to help punch up her old material, it becomes quickly apparent that her purpose is to help Vance see that her journey is what is most appealing and not her dirty jokes. Acknowledging who she is to the world will help her move forward. This process goes both ways, though; Ava must stop blaming the world for her mistake and accept what occurred.
Smart and Einbinder have tremendous chemistry together. Einbinder’s Ava is acerbic, entitled, and shows just enough vulnerability. Smart knocks it out of the park as Deborah Vance. Her performance is so balanced and rich that it’s easily one of the best of her career. One minute she is dropping F-Bombs and destroying I-Pads, and the other, we see her admit that she’s well aware of her daughter’s scheme to sell pictures of her to TMZ. While critics were only given the first 6 episodes of the season, we get a taste of Katlin Olson, who plays Deborah’s daughter, and she is terrific. What’s intriguing is this a role we don’t typically see the star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in, so it shows off her versatility as a performer. Hacks is a classic example of how great writing can elevate a show but mix that with wonderful performances, and the result is an extraordinary show.
Hacks premieres its first two episodes of the season May 13th on HBO MAX.