Entitled Gen Z Ava (Hannah Einbinder) works for legendary comedienne Deborah Vance (Jean Smart). The unlikely pair is openly hostile during much of the first season, but when they set aside their differences, they actually start to learn from each other. The trouble is Deborah’s diva attitude will always clash with Ava’s arrogance.
The series won Outstand Writing and Outstanding Directing at the Primetime Emmy Awards for its first season, as well as Outstanding Lead Actress for Smart. The show also took home the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy. Its second season premieres on HBO Max May 12, 2022, and there are just a few things you need to know about Hacks before jumping in.
- Who’s The Hack in HBO’s Hacks?
Deborah Vance was one of the first and one of the best female comedians of her day. She helped break the glass ceiling and paved the way for a whole generation of comics who came after her.
While that generation still lauds her for her ground-breaking work, her Las Vegas show is selling fewer and fewer seats. Her act lacks relevance, and the casino owner is threatening to cut dates. To conserve her shows (and save face), her manager suggests hiring a writer, but Deborah refuses, having always written her own material.
2. How To Get Cancelled on Twitter In One Easy Step
Deborah’s manager sends her a writer anyway, unbeknownst to Deborah. Ava, a promising but struggling writer from Los Angeles, is of course young enough to be Deborah’s granddaughter.
Ava is also fresh from a scandal, having recently lost her TV deal after tweeting an offensive joke about a conservative congressman’s gay son. Twitter cancels her, and she is summarily exiled to Deborah’s Las Vegas residency. Neither Deborah nor Ava is happy she’s there.
3. Clash of the Comediennes
Deborah and Ava dislike each other immediately. Ava thinks Deborah’s jokes are stale and Deborah is annoyed that Ava hasn’t come prepared. Their age gap is significant, and their styles are different, but even their insults reveal both are deeply funny women.
Storming out of their first meeting, Ava shouts “So cool they let you move into a Cheesecake Factory!” This, strangely, is a pivotal moment for them. Sensing talent, Deborah demands to hear the joke that got Ava sent to comedy Siberia. Hedging that she may have crossed a line, Deborah insists that’s impossible: “Oh honey, there is no line. It’s just not funny.” And together, they workshop that joke until it is.
4. Hell Hath No Fury
Part of the Deborah Vance mythos is that she once burned down her ex-husband’s house after he left her for her sister. Deborah has spent the last three decades doing bits about it in her stand-up and starring in commercials for fire starter logs. At a recent gig, Ava cautions Deborah to avoid being degraded by these references, which unleashes Deborah’s fury.
After four decades in comedy, it’s clear that Deborah has put up with harsh critics, and since she can’t beat them, she joins them. Laughing at her own image gives her power over her reputation, even if the gossip proves to be false. Which, in the case of the fire, it is. Yet Deborah has found it easier to take ownership of a sexist lie than to tell the truth.
5. Fight For You (Equal) Rights
Deborah eventually resorts to blackmailing casino owner Marty (Christopher McDonald) into preserving her dates (he’s been hiding assets to minimize alimony payments to ex-wives). Deborah made millions for him over the years, but even their personal history and an intimate rekindling won’t stop him from treating her like a business decision. He ultimately decides to make her upcoming 2500th show her last.
Just when you think Hacks is about the generational difference between Deborah and Ava, something like this happens to remind us that even though there’s been increased equality and representation for women in the industry, at the end of the day, nothing has really changed for either of them. They still must fight just to be heard.
Hacks isn’t just a two-person effort; Deborah is surrounded by people working hard to make her life easy. Aside from her fraught relationship with daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olsen), Deborah doesn’t seem to have many friends or confidants. Instead, she has employees, and those relationships don’t exactly come easy to her either.
Housekeeper Josefina (Rose Abdoo), manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs), COO Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and personal blackjack dealer Kiki (Poppy Liu) help insulate Deborah from nasty gossip and the pervasive media, but her treatment of them varies anywhere from generous to abusive. This talented ensemble brings a lot of color to a series that trends heavily toward dark comedy.
7. Deborah Hits The Refresh Button
If Deborah’s punchlines are stale, it’s because she’s spent 30 years building a wall around her heart which she arms with snarky one-liners. Ava’s generation, however, has grown up baring their souls on social media. Her honest, unfiltered style is also wielded as a shield, but she encourages Deborah to incorporate her experiences as a female comic into a new show.
This barrier is mentally and emotionally difficult for Deborah to vault, but her contributions as a trailblazer have repeatedly been minimized and this is her chance to set the record straight. Deborah was once on the brink of becoming the first female late-night talk show host, and the audience finally finds out the price she paid for being a wife and mother first.
8. Forget The Ladder; She Built A Fucking Marble Staircase
Deborah returns to her old stomping grounds to test out new material and reunites with French, an old friend and fellow comic. She tells Deborah that the club’s owner has recently died, and the two reminisce about what a predatory misogynist he was. Ava grows angry, not understanding why they put up with this toxicity. Deborah and Frenchie are glad that she doesn’t, glad that their sacrifices have meant something. They aren’t complaining, they’re simply reliving what women had to do to survive.
Yet the scene, and Ava’s judgment, imply something more. Are these two veteran survivors, or are they enablers? Does their failure to speak up make them complicit? Should they have risked their careers to ensure future generations could have them? Or does surviving mean more than any accusation ever could? Either way, Deborah laments that the skeevy club owner claimed her as his own success story, hanging her portrait on the wall. Deborah steals the photo on her way out, a small act of reclamation.
9. One Less Comedy Douchebag Bro In The World
Rehearsing new material at the club, Deborah encounters Drew, a smug Joe-Rogan type who resents her success. As he cracks sexist jokes at her expense, Deborah’s carefully prepared set is discarded, and she goes rogue. She offers Drew $1.69M to quit comedy. Heckling her heckler with the audience on her side, Deborah is on fire.
Despite all her money and privilege, Deborah can’t rid the comedy world of every creep, but she can rid it of Drew, and that’s a solid start. Until now, money has been Deborah’s armor, and a shiny symbol of her success to anyone who doubted her along the way. On this stage, however, she weaponizes it. She has it, and she confronts him with the reality that he likely never will. This is a pivotal moment in Deborah’s career, and it’s not even about Drew. Though she never gets around to her new material, she’s still brave enough to be raw and exposed on stage, the honest product of a brutal boys’ club.
10. The Worst Thing About Betrayal Is It Isn’t Your Enemies Who Do it
Despite their age difference, Deborah does not become a mother figure to Ava, nor a mentor. Their shared love of comedy brings them together as collaborators and confederates. They’re both women who have been cast aside, and they prop each other up to make one last stand.
The finale, however, reminds viewers of an all-too-common predicament faced by the few women who make it to the top: they’re forced to compete. In a moment of weakness, Ava sells sordid stories about Deborah. The season one finale of Hacks ends on a cliff hanger, just before we find out how Deborah reacts. Season two is going to be a bumpy ride.
Season 2 of Hacks streams on HBO Max starting May 12.