3 out of 5
Created by: Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky
covers season 1
This is good, but feels it it should be great.
Hacks fits something of an odd couple template: aging Las Vegas-fixture stand up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is fighting to maintain that ‘fixture’ status, being shuffled toward retirement. Her routines are routine, but she’s clearly passionate about her work, and her day-to-day interactions with her manager and her staff and her family make it clear that the biting, whipsmart snark of her work is well intwined in her DNA. Elsewhere, LA comedy writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) made some poorly-received tweets, has just been dumped, and can’t land a new job. Her agent makes the connection: Ava will become a writer for Deborah. The two meet, and its kids versus adults; millenials versus the golden generation. Vance is deadset against accepting Daniels’ help, reducing her to a gopher or file clerk, and Daniels takes no steps toward adapting her brash modern comedy to Vance’s style. If you suspect that, during the course of the season, they’ll butt heads humorously, then eventually come to understand one another and find synergy for some Final Show greatness – then yes, you’ve identified the template. It’s a valid comedy premise, and the leads are quite perfectly cast, both imbuing their characters with the right notes of entitlement and ignorances and shots of clarity to make them wholly believable in their respective roles. The episodic tete-a-tetes are funny, and the writers appropriately paced out the duo’s evolution from reluctant boss and employee to partners in crime.
However, Hacks keeps trying to deal in some larger ideas concerning women comedians – women-in-the-workplace in general, from Ava’s perspective, but more specific to the industry as Vance starts to open up (and as we see) her experiences with indirect and direct – very direct – sexism. The actors, again, do this stuff great justice, mixing the unfortunate resolved-to-deal-with-it mentality with various emotional or aggressive releases, spurred on by each other, but the show never digs hard enough into the subject, coasting more on a general feeling and not coming across with much of a cohesive statement. It’s understandable that, as a TV show, the need to have subplots is a must – and so we get relationship asides, and family woes – but these aren’t terribly interesting, falling into a generic sitcom hijinks bucket, and this gets furthered along when even our main storyline, growing stronger and more bold as the season progresses, is equally distracted by further odd couple template additions, driving a wedge between our leading ladies.
Hacks seems to be aiming for the hurtful (but woefully humorous!) realties of fantastic shows like Better Things, but it misses that mark, falling in to more standard comedy drama fare, despite a ripe-for-exploration subject matter. It burbles along very pleasantly, though, and is well supported by great performances from its primaries.