If Hacks isn’t inspired by the success of Joan Rivers then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Regardless, it is a cracking buddy series with two leads who bounce off each other with vaudevillian repartee.
Jean Smart, fresh from her haggard look on Mare of Easttown, is glammed up as a Las Vegas star attraction, Deborah Vance. Dropping sardonic gags and endless put-downs from her microphone, she’s seasoned if old-school, as if Phyllis Diller had been her mentor. And what a career she has amassed, with a spanking lonely mansion of inordinate wealth where dining is a silent pleasure with her loyal corgis.
But when Casino boss Marty (Christopher McDonald) advises he is dropping her hackneyed Friday & Saturday night shows for hot new acapella act that has won a reality show, an outraged Deborah calls her LA manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) and reads the riot act.
Jimmy, as it happens is mid-meeting with Gen Z comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) whose tweets have her in cancel culture’s crosshairs. Nobody will hire her, but he decides to kill two birds with one stone: get Ava a job by writing more relevant comedy for the corny Deborah. It’s a simple premise, to be sure, but it fits like a glove. Neither wants the other, but needs them in order to survive.
What unfolds is a sizzling tug-of-war between the veteran Deborah and the contemporary, forthright Ava. And creator Lucia Aniello has plenty to work with.
“What’s your favourite joke of mine?” asks Deborah. “I’ve written over 30,000. Pick one.”
The fact that vape-sucking Ava gives as good as she gets, makes this all the more enjoyable. Drowning in the phony glitz of Vegas (there’s even an Elvis impersonator on a mobility scooter) means she will have to be nimble just to stay alive.
Supporting players include Deborah’s chief operating officer Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), Deborah’s privileged daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson not to be confused with Melissa Rivers) and Deborah’s personal assistant Damien (Ugly Betty‘s Mark Indelicato).
But it is Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder we are here for. Smart revels in a tour-de-force role, steamrolling her way through some delicious dialogue, but having to pivot to moments of vulnerability. Similarly, Einbinder’s Ava must let down her guard to embrace spontaneity if she is to make this succeed. Watching the two at work is like two battery terminals sparking across 30 minute jump-starts.
Thanks Joan, Phyllis, Lucy, Carol, Debbie, Bette…. Hacks is a fine tribute to showroom pioneers.
Hacks screens today on Stan.