Deborah Vance embodies the difference between a punishing mentor and a completely terrible one. If she is lucky, she may never experience either type. But if she’s lucky, and tough enough to withstand a fit of rage or 20, she may learn invaluable lessons from someone as relentless as Jean Smart’s force of nature.
In the second season of “Hacks”, Deborah is especially brutal with her protégé Ava (Hannah Einbinder) without completely violating the agreement they reached. Showrunners Paul W. Downs, Jen Statsky, and Lucia Aniello deserve much of the credit for steering the comedy right on that line between hilarious and devastating, but none of their efforts would come to fruition if Smart and Einbinder weren’t such a phenomenal team.
These new episodes reaffirm why Smart’s Emmy win for his performance in the first season was indisputable and make a strong case for it to be repeated.
Ava continues to nag, but her mistakes have also made her less impetuous.
But Statsky and Downs deepen the hardcore character profile that Einbinder established, allowing her performance to amplify her comedy writer’s vulnerability without losing the right to be too cool for this right that keeps getting Ava in trouble. Ava is still annoying, but her mistakes have also made her less impetuous and thoughtful enough to teach Deborah a few things about herself.
In a way, this improves on those perfections of generational rectitude that some people had issues with, especially in the early episodes where the character exemplified some of the worst millennial clichés imaginable. Einbinder’s deft elaboration of Ava’s quirks and flaws led us to understand that, to quote another famous 20-something character, she is not the voice of her generation but an voice, and one so irritatingly self-absorbed that even her contemporaries can’t stand her.
Ava still has a place within Deborah’s inner circle despite a fiery betrayal at the end of the first season, one that is still floating in the ether as the premiere picks up right where last year’s finale left off: with the two women in full flight in Deborah’s private. jet, her shared future in the air.
“Hacks” doubles down on their cross-generational strengths in these new episodes by leveling the playing field where Deborah and Ava team up and face off simultaneously. Deborah is on a downward turn, having sampled the new confessional material that Ava encouraged her to explore in her latest show as the Queen of the Las Vegas Strip, only to bomb magnificently.
RELATED: “Hacks” Captures How Age Discrimination Takes Over Women And Delights In Hitting Back.
So as the two make their way to the workshop of Deborah’s next show, spending most of their days on a tour bus (but a fancy one, after all, it’s still Deborah’s show) they have no choice but to be painfully genuine with each other. . This often translates into raw and bloody frankness. Those moments also require Deborah and Ava to take a hard look at themselves, which isn’t necessarily fatal, but they do ask them to destroy every impression of themselves they may be holding on to.
Elsewhere, the script adds some tenderness to the strained relationship between Ava and Deborah’s shared agent Jimmy (played with a wonderful sense of insight by Downs) and Kayla, Meg Stalter’s wildly clueless assistant Jimmy never knew about. can be undone.
The beautiful magic act of “Hacks” is that there is never any question as to why Ava stays with Deborah.
The beautiful magic act of “Hacks” is that there’s never any question as to why Ava stays with Deborah, especially after the writers respond to Ava’s betrayal with a signature Deborah Vance twist designed to inflict ultimate agony. (Even this punch comes wrapped in Smart’s velvet glove: “This will be a good learning experience for you!” Deborah yells as Ava lifts her jaw from her lap.)
They can hurt each other, but they also understand each other better than the rest of the world. Only now they understand that this mutual understanding does not empower them, it is a crutch at best and, more accurately, an insurmountable obstacle.
The scenes that set up this section of your roadmap are equal parts acting masterclass and scriptwriting lesson, with the stars’ performances superbly infusing your story with tension without sacrificing comedic value. In a devastating moment, it occurs to Deborah that she wasn’t drawn to Ava’s writing because she understood it, but because she is as selfish and cruel as she is.
Because the truth is that Deborah Vance is a stalker, and of the worst kind: the one who thinks she’s the victim. Every person in her life is on her payroll and would never be near her if her livelihood didn’t depend on it, including Ava. There should be quotation marks around those last two sentences, as they are a direct excerpt from the dialogue. of an episode.
That is also the thesis of a season that revolves around Deborah’s odyssey to ensure her return. In Ava, Deborah sees an opportunity to up her game and teach someone to be better at it. Ava sees in Deborah a teacher and a professional lifeguard, but also a means of penance. But it is also clear that these women love and respect each other.
Smart has a cosmic glow in the scenes where Deborah lets the purple stains of her spirit seep through her battle-ready façade.
Smart has a cosmic glow in the scenes where Deborah lets the purple stains of her spirit seep through her battle-ready façade. And the actor plays these moments with heartbreaking subtlety by allowing Deborah’s immaculate mask to drop, ever so slightly, as he grapples with the truth of who she is.
It’s in the way he narrows his eyes or drops the confident smile that always props up his expression a bit. When she follows these moments by returning fire with harder blows, whether it’s through the perfect finisher or an unpolished truth, it’s impossible to pay attention to anything else.
Perhaps that sounds like hyperbole, but anyone who looks will see that this is not the case.
It’s also not an exaggeration to say that this new season exploits the energy “Hacks” builds up during its first season by pressing harder on Deborah’s imperfections, accurately depicting the grit and work it takes to start over as a woman in a field where one’s male companions are resting on their laurels. For once, Deborah feels what it’s like to be upstaged, whether by her ego, her prejudice, or, at a critical moment, an animal’s afterbirth.
The new season also pushes Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), Deborah’s newly appointed but eternally exasperated CEO, into the unknown, giving Clemons-Hopkins more opportunities to extricate herself from her deadpan performance. They’re great as serious executives, but they’re also wonderful at getting rid of your tension. And when they and other guest stars run into Deborah and Ava or join them and Mark Indelicato’s eternally energetic Damien on the tour bus, season two finds an unexpected new gear to shift into.
Throughout, he asks whether a person can really be their best in a profession that rewards self-preservation and Darwinian levels of pettiness, and if so, what does it take to master that lesson? Answering those questions sends “Hacks” soaring to greater heights as it brings Deborah and Ava down to Earth, demanding that they discover a new way to fly without tearing each other apart along the way.
The second season of “Hacks” debuts with two episodes on Thursday, May 24 on HBO Max, with new episodes debuting weekly.
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