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Josh Reviews Hacks

November 8th, 2021
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In Hacks, Jean Smart stars as famous comedian Deborah Vance.  Ms. Vance was a groundbreaking female comedian and has settled into a luxurious life doing her regular act at a Las Vegas casino.  But after years of being king of the Vegas hill, she’s in danger of losing her spot at the casino.  At the behest of her agent, she hires a young comedy writer named Ava to write her some new material.  Ava has strong opinions but no job prospects after an unfortunate Twitter joke torpedoed her career and her life.  Ava resents having to write jokes for someone she views as an over-the-hill hack, while Deborah resents this young nobody’s suggestion that her comedy needs any sort of reinvention.

Wow has this been a hell of a year for the great Jean Smart.  I’ve been a fan ever since seeing her on 24 years ago; she impressed me with her spectacular work on the HBO Watchmen miniseries and she blew me away with Mare of Easttown.  It was great fun to move onto Hacks immediately after finishing Easttown.  I am left with the inescapable conclusion that there’s absolutely nothing Ms. Smart cannot do.  She’s 100% the reason to watch this show.  Deborah Vance is a fantastic character for her to play, and Ms. Smart really sinks her teeth into the role.  The title of the series suggests that Deborah Vance might really be the type of hack that Ava clearly thinks she is at first.  That could have been a funny comedy premise for a show.  But the show never settles for that easy approach, choosing instead to gradually explore Deborah’s life as a groundbreaking female super-star, and all of the challenges that came from that.  The show doesn’t shy away from exploring Deborah’s difficult experiences as a woman in the boys club of Hollywood and then comedy.  But it also doesn’t dwell on that either, or use that as an excuse for Deborah’s bad behavior.  I love that the series clearly has great empathy for this woman, while also allowing her to be a nuanced and real human being who can be heroic and flawed all at the same time.  It’s a beautifully written character and wow does Ms. Smart just knock the hell out of this performance, absolutely commanding the screen every second she’s in a scene.

In what is basically her first major on-screen role, Hannah Einbinder is tremendous as Ava.  For anyone to share the screen with Ms. Smart in this role would be a challenge; for a relative newcomer I can’t imagine how hard that must have been and how highly the odds were stacked against her success.  But I thought … [continued]