Hacks Season Two | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 27th, 2023  

Hacks (Season Two)

HBO Max, May 12, 2022

May 11, 2022 Photography by Karen Ballard/HBO Max Web Exclusive
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Hacks snuck up on viewers out of nowhere with its breakout first season last year. The half-hour razor-sharp comedy from HBO Max about an aging, but still popular, comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), and the 20-something persona non grata writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) who is forced to work for her, doesn’t sound amazing on paper. But the show’s brilliant writing and flawless cast earned Hacks a grip of awards, among them, three Emmys and two Golden Globes, including Best Actress statues for Smart.

Season Two of the series maintains that brilliance, picking up right where we left Deborah and Ava, after the latter sent a destructive email about the former to opportunistic series developers who are scripting an unflattering show based on Deborah’s character. This regretful email hangs over Ava, whose permanently downturned mouth is a fixture in the first few episodes. This is a sharp contrast with Deborah’s manic energy as she preps for hitting the road to work out new material, a follow-through from her being kicked out of her residency in Las Vegas.

The push and pull between Deborah’s warrior Boomer and Ava’s entitled Zoomer is the centerpiece for Hacks. This dynamic is ramped up in the second season as the two are physically away from the other characters. Beleaguered by her impulsive missive, Ava trudges through the preparations, tense and miserable. This doesn’t take away from her non-stop one-liners which are delivered so naturally and are in keeping with her judgmental and overly woke personality. Ava’s running commentary on the world, and Deborah’s behavior in particular, is either ignored or batted back by Deborah with spiky precision.

Still, there are many moments in this season where Deborah is pummeled in her (re)starting from scratch position. Her fragility is laid bare over and over again as she puts herself in vulnerable situations. This is an interesting side to her that viewers saw a bit of in the first season. Smart plays this with nuance and sensitivity, her emotions showing in every tiny facial muscle movement and gaze. Ava’s snarky attitude and eye roll-laced responses are a great foil for Deborah’s part-brutal part-bruised ups and downs.

The supporting cast are no less stellar than the two main characters. The first season had seamless built-in interaction with Deborah’s on-point right-hand person and COO, Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), who is now going through a break-up, Deborah’s and Ava’s manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs, who is also one of the series’ co-writers) and his hysterical and inappropriate assistant Kayla (Megan Stalter), Deborah’s recovering addict daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson) and Deborah’s delightful blackjack dealer, Kiki (Poppy Liu) whose scenes are essential viewing.

This season, there is a disconnection from these fantastic characters as most of them remain in Vegas (or Los Angeles) while Deborah and Ava are on the road. Their scenes feel disjointed from the overarching storyline, but their delivery is still absolutely marvelous. It’s best when they have direct interaction with Deborah (and Ava). Damien (Mark Indelicato), Deborah’s assistant, makes the most of his screen time at her side becoming utterly indispensable to her and to viewers. A standout new character is the always excellent Laurie Metcalf, Deborah’s militaristic tour manager “Weed,” who drops Pete Wentz in conversation as often as possible. A key quality everyone in Deborah’s employ shares—with the exception of Ava—is their fierce protectiveness of her, and not just because their livelihood depends on her, but because they genuinely love her.

The successes on season two of Hacks are hard won by the series’ characters who maneuver around a minefield of losses. The message of perseverance and determination, however, is sent with aplomb and without a shred of “hack”-y-ness. (www.hbomax.com/hacks)

Author rating: 9/10

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