For a large part of Hacks season one, we saw Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) come out of limbo (and, depending on what you think of the Las Vegas heat, hell). A joke about the hypocrisy of a locked-in senator sending his gay son to conversion therapy made Ava persona non grata in Los Angeles, although his reputation as a comedy writer was hardly solid before this debacle on Twitter. When her agent Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) offers her a writing job for one of her other clients, stand-up legend Deborah Vance (Jean Smart, who only owns the small screen these days) , she reluctantly accepts the offer. Then she quickly botches her first meeting with Deborah, although it isn’t entirely her fault. Deborah is just as hot as Ava – she doesn’t like the idea that she has to revitalize her act, an act that’s got her through more than 2,400 shows at Palmetto Casino.
Even once they agree to work together, Deborah and Ava struggle to find common ground. Deborah is a baby boomer who has fought and scratched for every measure of success she has, while Ava is already a (town) owner in Los Angeles at the age of 25. , there is a glimmer of shared recognition of each other’s talent. They see, almost reluctantly, how they can help each other, and this is also how they help themselves.
Series creators and writers Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs draw suspense from one of television’s most unconventional couples. The weekly airing schedule also lent itself well to Deborah and Ava’s unpredictable partnership, with viewers wondering from week to week – same episode after episode – if they will start criticizing each other again, or if the last truce will hold. Thanks to the high-level work of Smart and Einbinder, there has been as much fun watching Deborah and Ava let their guard down around each other as it has been in any mystery show. But over the past eight episodes, a genuine affection developed between the two women, a feeling they both struggled to identify. We support them as individuals and as a team. Now that Deborah has finally decided to take her comedy in a new direction, which will leave her more vulnerable than she has ever been, we can really see what she is capable of on stage.
As her 2,500th show – and the recall of her record-breaking Palmetto residency – looms, it also becomes clear what she has to lose. No matter how close they got, Deborah thinks she’s the only one on a limb. In episode eight, “1.69 million,” Marty revealed (post-coital) that he was buying back his contract, blackmailing it. She stepped into action with Ava, working on a new act that was much more denominational. She hasn’t quite shaken off her apprehensions about the change, but what Deborah doesn’t recognize is something the audience can clearly see: She’s been shaking things up for much of her career; It is only in recent years that she has become comfortable, dare I say, complacent.
But, to show Deborah the same empathy the show demonstrates, I admit that is a bet to finish a historic race with a whole new set in the hopes that Steve Winwood or some other Vegas impresario will want to pick it up. That’s why my heart sank a little bit when, in the opening moments of the penultimate episode of “Interview,” Ava received an alert for her flight to Los Angeles. She is young, talented and ambitious, and should definitely be thinking about her career. And yet Deborah would probably burn her to the ground if she escaped now.
Here is one of the many, many times that we can credit the work of the Hacks writers, including Samantha Riley, Ariel Karlin and Jen Statsky, who wrote the last two episodes. Their holistic approach to these dynamic and difficult women revealed as many strengths as they were flaws. The conflict I feel about wanting good things for Ava and Deborah, even knowing they might not be the right ones. even good stuff for both, everything is designed. I’m so invested in this relationship that while waiting to find out if Deborah finds out about Ava’s interview with the creators of The bitter end had me on the edge of my seat. You know you’ve created a great character study when there is so much anticipation over personal decisions that wouldn’t seem to carry the weight of the world in another setting.
The final two episodes, “Interview” and “I Think She Will,” follow the trajectory of the rest of the season: up and down, then down, then a little higher, and… you get the hang of it. Deborah feels confident and even urges Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) to enjoy some free time. Marcus has attached his cart to Deborah’s star, so he can’t really relax while she works, especially since she is doing the opposite of what he would like. He gave up so much, got so devoted to Deborah, that you can’t fault Marcus for wanting more. The problem is, they all have very different ideas of what the “plus” is. Again, you don’t have to like everyone on Hacks (you probably won’t), but you are invested in what happens to these characters.
Much of the tension in this combined final hour of the season comes from the recognition that some things aren’t made to last, not weddings, creative partnerships, relationships with hot girlfriends (Lorenza Izzo as Ruby) and certainly not acting careers. (Although luckily we know the show will continue for at least one more season. Ava and Deborah’s relationship has always been somewhat tenuous (okay, at first it was very tenuous.) Ava never saw Vegas or standing comedy as more than a detour. So naturally, she jumps at the chance to meet the very British creators (played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Chris Geere) of a brilliant show.
This opportunity is not what it appears to be, as Ava quickly learns. The very British duo seem charmed by Ava, but they are more interested in his time with Deborah than in his own talents. Their new show is about a tyrannical female Prime Minister, whom they want to model on Deborah Vance. They also don’t see the premise as misogynistic: “We think true feminism is being able to say that some women are lousy freaks. A disillusioned Ava replies, “Is this a show about a shitty woman?” Because recognizing that women can be shit isn’t as revolutionary as Very British Duo seems to think. This exchange is filled with exquisite discomfort and disgust, but Ava’s question is one that people have probably been wondering about. Hacks (and even recent movies like Cruel). The show quickly answered that question, proving to be both a comedy about the shock of generations and a meditation on the nature of fame and art. Hacks dove deep into the creative process, observing with regret that the industry allows hacks to do so while excluding new voices. Like Deborah and Ava, the show refused to simply accept this. He challenged himself to imagine a way for these two women to create, to innovate, even in this toxic environment.
For a moment, we think Ava missed her chance, with Deborah, of course. She turns down Very British Duo, and quickly falls in his face, perhaps earning a little karmic retribution for jumping in the first place (or not, because again, she wants to be a television scriptwriter). Deborah finds out about the reunion, thanks to Marcus, and she reliably lashes out at her mentee, who has just learned that her father has had another stroke. Their growing intimacy is a double-edged sword: Deborah knows how much it will hurt Ava to know that she gives up their new job. Deborah has never been afraid of being cruel, but this is another of the rare times she acts out of fear. She punishes Ava so fiercely because she always thinks that she’s the one to risk anything, and she is terrified. It turns out they’re both in limbo, though Deborah’s exile is arguably more self-imposed. There is no shame in a Vegas residency, but someone like Deborah, who still has so much inspiration in her, is hiding. (Do not hesitate to tell me that I am wrong in the comments!)
the Hacks finale, “I Think She Will”, is an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t let go, even in the last moments. As Deborah and Ava reconcile and prepare to hit the road again to polish the new act, I can’t help but wonder what Marcus, the new CEO, thinks about the shift. He effectively chose Deborah over Wilson (Johnny Sibilly), their job over his relationship. The questions of how he will react and if Deborah and Ava can keep him working are enough to chew on, but Hacks then drop another bomb. Turns out, in typical Ava fashion, she emailed Very British Duo after Deborah slapped her. Everything she sent was compromising, judging by Jimmy’s frantic call. I literally became “GULP” when Ava hung up the phone and sat down next to her boss and mentor. Season two can’t come soon enough.
And now, a few words on this surprisingly suspenseful season. Fresh and funny, Hacks is the kind of show that understands how rich women’s lives are at any age. Deborah Vance is the role of a lifetime, and yet Jean Smart gives the impression that this is just the beginning. It can’t be easy going up against such an accomplished professional, but Hannah Einbinder is holding on. Hacks tests Deborah and Ava’s ability to “hack” – to endure, to take the blows – in a culture where few, let alone women, thrive. But instead of just being an exploration of survival, the show helps them find a way to rise above them.
- I could just list a bunch of jokes here, but it’s already a bit long. Thank you for your patience! We’ll have a post-mortem interview with the creators on the site overnight.