Tag Archives: HBO Max

10 Things You Need to Know About Hacks Ahead of its Season Two Premiere

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.

  1. 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

HBO Max's Hannah Einbinder stars as cancelled comedian Ava on Hacks, opposite Jean Smart.

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

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart star as clashing comedians  Ava and Deborah on HBO Max's Hacks.

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

Hacks season one Deborah Vance and Ava stranded on the side of the road Rolls Royse

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 and Ava slaughter fish together after Deborah catches them from her fish pond. Season one, Hacks.

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.

6. Entourage

Deborah's daughter DJ Kaitline Olsen and COO Marcus Carl Clemons-Hopkins on Hacks, season one

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

Ava visits Deborah at a wax museum to unlock her phone. HBO Max Hacks season one

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

Ava and Deborah check out Deborah Vance's picture hanging on the comedy club wall before stealing it back, Hacks season one

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

Hacks' Jean Smart and Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah Vance and Marcus on stage in Las Vegas before Deborah's final show.

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.

The Little Things

Deke (Denzel Washington) is in L.A. from up north on some menial task, evidence transport or some such. He used to be on the force here, but no longer; his former colleagues don’t have great things to say about him, and they’re not shy about filling in the new guy, Baxter (Rami Malek) on all the ways Deke was found wanting. Mainly that he worked a case too hard, was so obsessed that he jeopardized his career, failed his marriage, and risked his health. Baxter, however, has some sympathy for Deke. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s a lot like him. He’s about to get a case that will haunt him in a very familiar way, and as Deke says – these are the ones that stay with you.

Deke has the opportunity to say this to Baxter because for some reason Deke sticks around to work the case with him. Totally unsanctioned of course – the dude has to sneakily take vacation from his real job to pursue this one totally against the rules. And Baxter lets him. Together they pursue an elusive serial killer, which leads them straight to Jared Leto. I mean, to Sparma, played by Jared Leto. And Jared Leto’s long greasy hair, distinguished gut, and totally unnecessary hitch in his giddyup – he literally walks around like he just got off an 8 hour horse ride over very rough terrain, only this is L.A. and even creeps like Sparma have a car. Anyway, Deke and Baxter agree that this guy is a Super Creep and that he’s guilty by virtue of just being so obviously a Super Creep. And honestly, Jared Leto so devotedly gives this guy every serial killer accessory he can think of that we openly despise him too, and don’t care much whether or not he’s actually guilty.

Anyway, as Deke likes to say, it’s the little things that add up, which is ironic because director John Lee Hancock, who also wrote those words, can’t even get the big things right. Hancock started writing this movie 30 years ago and it feels like any number of movies that have come out since, many of them much better, and all of them more original by default. But even if it wasn’t overly familiar, it would still lack suspense, or indeed any momentum. It’s a lot of moping around. You’ve perhaps come to see a trio of ostensibly talented Oscar-winning actors doing their thing but what you get is a solid performance by Denzel trapped in a shitty movie that has one of the most disappointing, anticlimactic third acts in cinematic history. The Little Things is available to stream, but why would you? This movie fails to satisfy in any way. You’ve got no places to go, no people to see, but you still have your dignity, and even during lockdown, time is precious.

Sundance 2021: Judas and the Black Messiah

This is the true story of Fred Hampton, young Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his ultimate betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal.

William, or Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), is a low-level hustler and car thief who gets caught by the wrong guy at the wrong time. FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemmons) is looking for a way to impress his boss, J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), and Bill is just the kind of guy he could use. Dangling his crimes and the threat of life in prison, Roy will be able to manipulate Bill into doing just about anything, and the thing at the top of everyone’s list these days is increasingly noisy Fred Hampton and his Black Panther Party in Chicago. Fred (Daniel Kaluuya) is agitating for things like equality and education, which of course infuriates the institution. How dare he? Worse still, Fred is so charismatic and galvanizing that he’s actually uniting not just his own party, but members of different and sometimes adversary groups that share, at their core, some common ground. Roy will have Bill infiltrate the Black Panther Party to get close to Fred.

As FBI informant, Bill will eventually betray Fred, ultimately leading to his assassination, but Shaka King’s brilliant film tells the tale of not one but two lives ruined by the FBI and its machinations. Bill is a victim too, and the film finds empathy for a man even its title suggests is a villain.

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield both had break out performances in Jordan Peele’s Get Out and both have chosen extremely well and wisely since, their careers pointed ever upward. How lovely to see them reunited here, and to such splendid effect. Kaluuya gives off such a strong, committed, and lyrical vibe that I must constantly remind myself that Hampton was but 21 years old when he died. Stanfield suffers quietly, his internal conflict not verbally expressed but no less apparent for it.

It can be difficult for an historic thriller to capture an authentic sense of excitement, but Shaka King’s perspective brings new urgency to the story, making for a compelling, electrifying watch, ready to pounce.