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Lucky Hank

AMC, March 19, 2023

Mar 17, 2023 Photography by AMC Web Exclusive
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As Bob Odenkirk’s titular creative writing professor in the new AMC dramedy Lucky Hank viciously critiques one of his students’ short stories, you might wonder what series creators Paul Lieberstein’s and Aaron Zelman’s writing mentors think of their screenplay for this pilot episode.

Lieberstein gained fame as a showrunner on The Office, not to mention his guest turn as Toby on that smash sitcom. Zelman cut his teeth on procedurals like Law & Order and Criminal Minds before getting an Emmy nomination on the prestige legal series Damages. Lucky Hank’s premiere falls far short of those prior heights, much less Odenkirk’s turns on best-ever dramas Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. That said, their attempts to make a low stakes, relatable dramedy are admirable.

The story centers on Hank’s angst at what might seem like a plum position— tenured English department chair at a cozy college town’s campus. Instead, after a bratty pupil demands feedback on his manuscript, dismisses Hank’s book as a moderate seller, and makes the professor snap, Hank rants to his students about the college being “medocrity’s capital”

Hank spends the rest of the episode wondering — no, hoping — that he’ll be pushed out of his gilded cage. His wife Lily is a far more even keeled high school social worker played by Mireille Enos (The Killing, Big Love). She insists Hank’s recent sourness stems from a New York Times article about his estranged father, a literary legend, that her husband crumpled, but keeps poring over and pocketing, to the point of making it tattered.

Indeed, Hank has far greater difficulty dealing with a phone call from his father’s assistant in a climatic and grippingly directed scene–thanks to Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly brothers. He’s a lot more at ease, complete with an amused smirk, when colleagues spring a non-confidence vote on him after his mid-class outburst.

It’s not just his fellow profs that are riled up. The Office fans will be delighted to see Oscar Nunez guest role in Lucky Hank’s pilot as the college’s dean as he tries to clean up Hank’s mess. Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show, Office Space) also appears as Odenkirk’s buddy and squash companion.

But even Bader, a seasoned comedic character actor, can’t make the overly-quippy-yet-deflated dialogue land. Same goes for the rest of the talented but hung-out-to-dry cast, each straining for cringey humor in one limp written exchange after the next. Only Odenkirk and Enos succeed by playing their scenes utterly straight. By not even trying to wring laughs, they smartly focus on character development. A subplot at Lily’s school, where she fails to broach an effective compromise between a troubled child’s mother and her exasperated teacher, will linger in audience’s minds far more than the meandering main arc.

Odenkirk’s largely internalized style here is a fresh departure from his pantheon-worthy performance as the yammering Saul Goodman. And while he gained notoriety for his slick talk in that role, he truly flourished in Saul scenes that called for his pent up rage. He further taps that territory on Hank. For example, clenching his jaw before a class he hates teaching.

If Lucky Hank focuses on that far more fruitful drama, or punches up its laugh lines, whoever taught Lieberstein and Zelman to write won’t feel like chewing them out like Hank does to his student in this underwhelming premiere’s opening scene. (www.amc.com/shows/luckyhank)

Author rating: 6/10

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