HBO Max’s Hacks: Premiere Episodes Review
HBO Max’s new comedy series, Hacks, has a delightfully biting comedic wit that stems from the chemistry and energy of its central polar-opposite paring.
The series follows young writer Ana (Hannah Einbinder) who’s last chance at success rests in writing for declining, but legendary Las Vegas comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) after a risky Twitter joke basically gets her blacklisted. Although the two share the same kind of unapologetically crude and rude humor, they constantly butt heads as Deborah isn’t exactly welcoming of Ana’s input and Ana struggles to find a sense of passion or care for her new boss.
Ana’s introduction serves as a perfect update on the state of comedy in the world of social media and how a poorly received joke can cause instant backlash. After getting some heat for a poorly received joke on Twitter, old professional friends barely want to chat with Ana and even her agent Jimmy’s (Paul W. Downs) investors want him to drop her. Just as her career began to be heading somewhere, Ana’s right back at rock bottom. It’s an interesting showing of the impact that social media and cancel culture can have on comedy and it never overstays its welcome. Although her career isn’t in decline for the same reasons, Deborah is in an equally rocky place in her career with her being downgraded in priority compared to younger up and comers. It’s an aging career story that isn’t necessarily new but made fresh through the more personal issues that Deborah masks through her comedy.
When she’s performing, it’s easy to see Deborah being okay with her past of her now dead husband cheating on her with her sister and burning his house down because she makes so many jokes about it. However, the series excellently shows how some old wounds of hers haven’t healed and how she uses comedy to mask these inner issues. It’s what makes her callous and cold demeanor towards Ana trying to change her comedy style a little more meaningful since her jokes represent more than just punchlines that get a good laugh. Deborah’s unresolved past even makes for some interesting storylines and growing connections as Ana tries to get to know Deborah better to write better material. Even though its early, Hacks provides some strong storytelling arcs for both of its crude comics and some hilarious moments within the entire cast.
Smart and Einbinder are a perfectly hilarious pairing as their spats and unfiltered personalities are constantly funny. Frankly, I’ve been loving Smart on Mare of Easttown for her small comedic moments as Mare’s mother Helen, so seeing her in the spotlight here is a total blast. Her excellent stand-up line delivery and ability to make Deborah undeniably charming even when she’s incredibly mean-spirited is always perfect. Whether she’s making enemies with the “water cop,” hating on Pentatonix, or delivering a scathing routine on Ana sending nudes to her ex to entire tour bus, Smart is endlessly savage with her comedy and Einbinder isn’t too far behind. She’s equally capable in delivering solid stingers towards Deborah’s treatment of her and she’s honestly hilarious as this spiteful, sort of liberal character that’s able to hold her own.
Even outside of Smart and Einbinder, there are plenty of great side characters, storylines, and jokes that give the series a good funny bone. Everything with Jimmy and his less than helpful assistant Kayla (Meg Stalter) is great. There’s already a soon to be relationship between Deborah’s main assistant Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and the rival water cop that will surely make Deborah pissed in a hilarious fashion. Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans will be thrilled to see Kaitlin Olsen as Deborah’s equally cold daughter DJ. There are even just some side moments of Ava experiencing the Las Vegas lifestyle that are really funny and give the city a different lens to look through.
Hacks shows a lot of strong, early potential to be a great original comedy series in HBO Max’s lineup with its two leads providing excellently biting hilarity with nearly every scene and there being a multi-generational story with some modern elements.