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Hacks Review 2021 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Rose Abdoo, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum
There’s a moment late in the sixth episode of HBO Max’s new dark comedy Hacks that will live in my soul forever. In a moment of rare vulnerability, Jean Smart‘s veteran comic Deborah Vance reveals a sad, sour truth about herself to 25-year-old comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder). Ava wants Deborah to incorporate the tale into her act, but the comedy legend scoffs at this. She mocks the Hannah Gadsbys of the world by asking, acid-tongued, “because people think it’s highbrow to tell sad stories?”
“I think you should say it because it’s the truth and it might be nice to just finally say it fucking out loud,” Ava answers back.
As a survivor of the stand up comedy world, I have to say it’s nice to watch a show that finally says the truth about comedy fucking out loud. It’s a world full of assholes, bullies, and martyrs, where trauma gets transmuted into belly laughs. Hacks accurately depicts stand up as a craft that people sacrifice all else to perfect. Personal relationships, moral codes, and even nights out on the town are thrown aside in service of honing a punchline. Most of all, though, Hacks understands that comics love comedy, even if it’s a one-sided romance. Perhaps the only more toxic relationship than the one between a comic and their career is the bittersweet one comics occasionally have with each other. Hacks anchors its emotional drama in the fraught friendship that somehow blossoms between the know-it-all icon, Deborah, and her entitled young writer, Ava.
Hacks is the rare comedy that not only nails its punchlines, but brutally deconstructs the pain, effort, and genius it takes to make jokes land. Hacks also proves, once again, that there’s no one better in the business than Jean Smart. To put it bluntly, Hacks is fucking great.
Hacks tells the story of Deborah Vance, a living comedy legend who finds her career in jeopardy because of her age. Although she holds the record for Las Vegas shows (and still packs the house every night), her boss wants to give Friday and Saturday nights to a younger act, like Pentatonix. Vance, a workaholic who lives for the stage, sees this is as a massive affront. She calls her manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) and demands he do…something. Already struggling to deal with another troublesome client, Jimmy decides to kill two birds with one stone. He will send the young and talented (but presently unemployable) Ava out to Las Vegas to work as Deborah’s writer.
If Deborah Vance represents the classic stand up comic — all flint and flash, old late night stories, insane work ethic, and addiction to performing — then Ava is almost a cliché of a young Millennial talent. Discovered on the internet, Ava dropped out of school to immediately get staffed on a show. However, her heat has petered out thanks to an off-color joke about a closeted senator. Ava is persona non grata in the tight knit world of Los Angeles comedy, and not just because of a tweet. As the show so deftly illustrates, Ava lacks the social graces or work ethic that marks the most beloved comics in the scene. Essentially, she’s a lazy asshole.
Ava and Deborah immediately lock horns and trade barbs, and it’s here where Hacks really shows that it gets how comics tick. Roast jokes are the road to mutual respect in the comedy world. If you can’t roll with a joke made at your expense, you have no right cracking them on stage. With each insult hurled at each other, Deborah and Ava begin to build a strange form of mutual respect. As time goes on, Deborah is able to impress upon Ava the importance of resiliency, while Ava is able to give the older comic a new perspective on her life story.
And Deborah’s life story might be one of the most compelling parts of Hacks. A former sitcom star, road comic, and almost first female late night host, Deborah broke boundaries while still being held back by sexism. In fact, her whole perspective on life seems to be defined by what a sexist world has cast her as. Still, she keeps slinging scathing punchlines and fighting back with her wits. It’s a masterful portrait of a woman doing her all in a male-dominated profession.
It’s also a fantastic showcase for Jean Smart herself. The actress, who is herself a sitcom veteran, has had something of a career resurgence in recent years thanks to juicy parts in prestige dramas. Here she is able to thread the needle, bringing real complex pathos to Deborah off-stage, while also effortlessly pulling off the character’s own comic genius. It’s impossible to watch Hacks and not be in awe of the power that is Jean Smart.
Hacks is also a great introduction to Hannah Einbinder, a stand up comic in her own right (and the daughter of original SNL cast member Laraine Newman). Einbinder has the unenviable task of selling a rather unlikeable character to the audience, all while sticking to the truth of Ava’s selfishness. If Ava wasn’t such an asshole, I wouldn’t buy her desperate quandary. And if Einbinder wasn’t so fabulous in the part, I wouldn’t care, either.
Hacks pulls off a true tightrope act: it’s a celebration of the mean underbelly of comedy that is still empathetic to the heartache pushing most comics to the mic. It’s a spectacular showcase for its leading ladies, and above all, a love letter to life in the comedy trenches.