Monday, June 07, 2021

HACKS -- My review

I have a new favorite show.  HACKS on HBO Max.

It’s that rare comedy-drama that actually delivers on both.  The funny parts are genuinely funny, and the drama is real, earned, engrossing, and surprising.  

And that’s not even the best part.

The best part is Jean Smart.  She’s always good in everything she does, which is admirable considering she’s done everything.  But HACKS is her tour de-force.  She has my vote for the Emmy right now.   She plays a famous stand-up comedian, now relegated to a showroom in Las Vegas and hawking crap on QVC.  She’s part Joan Rivers, part Wayne Newton, part Shelley Winters.  Her character is so layered that you find yourself really rooting for her, even though she occasionally will do appalling things.  On top of everything else, Smart is fearless, and all too happy to be shown in a less than favorable light. 

And unlike “Midge Maizel” we’re not asked to believe that every lame joke she tells just pulverizes audiences. To be honest, I find Deborah Vance’s (Smart) material to be way funnier than Midge’s.  

HACKS is a character study of a fascinating, complex woman played to perfection by Jean Smart.  

But wait!  There’s more.

Young Hannah Einbinder (Laraine Newman’s daughter), plays a Millennial sitcom writer who tweets something deemed objectionable and her career is kaput.  The only job she can get is writing fresh material for Deborah Vance.  Their relationship and chemistry is gold.   The job interview scene in the pilot alone is enough to start binging. 

The supporting characters are all terrific, and after watching all these shows shot during the pandemic with no scope and no energy, it’s such a pleasure to watch a show with crowds, and large casinos, and people eating in restaurants.  They make great use of Las Vegas.  HACKS almost makes me want to go there.  I said “almost,” I’m still not ready and when I see the all the house trailers in hotel parking lots, I think: “Probably half of these people aren’t vaccinated and yet they’re indoors, and eating at big buffets” — I’ll let them get COVID, lose all their money gambling, and lose their mobile homes while I get my Vegas fix by watching the series.  

Each episode gets better and better and you learn more and more about each character.  HBO Max drops two episodes every Thursday.  I believe eight are available.  I invite you to get on the train.   I know everyone raves about TED LASSO, and it’s a damn fine show, but for my money (which I’m not spending on KENO) HACKS is better.  

It’s that super rarity — a Las Vegas winner. 

36 comments :

Joe said...

Ken "vaccinations cure everything" Levine

Sammy B said...

I agree 100%. This was off my radar until a few days after it premiered and a few funny people I follow on Twitter talked about how great it is. I figured what the heck and am so glad I did!

Jeff said...

Just watched the first episode last night and agree that it's quite good! I am looking forward to learning more about these two intriguing characters. For what it's worth, I also love Ted Lasso!

kent said...

Are there any platforms to which you don't subscribe?

Robert "kebernet" Cooper said...

I really feel like after Legion, Watchmen, and now Hacks, Jean Smart has had a HELLUVA few years. Everything she has done has just been gold.

Tim G said...

Thanks for mentioning Hacks a few weeks ago Ken. I remember the heart and sincerity Jean Smart brought to Designing Women and then was amazed at her 180 in Frasier and The Brady Bunch Movie. Not to mention her simultaneous recent turn in Mare of Easttown. Never thought I'd laugh so hard at a line such as "Maybe he's a serial killer."

What a great performer, and this is such an absorbing show.

Linda G said...

Both Hacks and Ted Lasso are bringing me a lot of joy right now. The Hacks recommendation came from you, Ken. Ted Lasso was recommended by my niece who works for.a US pro football team. Together they make me think we are entering a new golden age of comedy. What I appreciate so much about Hacks is how the lines and plot developments, which seem on the surface to be so wrong, land so right. Thanks for the review.

M Shayler said...

I heard Jean Smart interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air"recently and got a feeling that Hacks" was going to be a winner! Host Terry Gross got a real charge from playing Smart's hilarious "PUT YOUR BROTHER ON THE PHONE" clip from "Fraiser".

Lemuel said...

"Why don't you boys come in and help me make a sandwich?"

Ere I Saw Elba said...

I love Jean Smart, which surprises even me. I'm not normally into "diva" types, but I think she's brilliant. I guess I just like her as a person. Good on her to keep going. And yes, I thought her guest spots on FRASIER were great.

Jeannie said...

https://www.dirt.com/gallery/locations/filming-locations/hacks-television-show-filming-locations-1203383869/lb-hacks-filming-locations-3/
This article shows how little of "Hacks" was shot in Las Vegas, if anyone was wondering. We binged directly from "Mare" to "Hacks" and Jean Smart is a revelation in both.I also learned today that the agent who reps "Ava" and "Deborah" is one of the creators of the show. He's also killin it.

normadesmond said...

I wouldn't have minded if Deborah was Jewish.

Michael said...

To show Jean Smart's ubiquitous presence, she even co-starred in a Candice Cameron Bure Christmas movie couple years ago, playing her guardian angel. At the time, I thought that was a sign her career was on the decline, but that obviously was wrong.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Ken can afford it.
M.B.

Michael said...

Hey, Las Vegan here! Chill out! We locals know the only reason the Strip exists is to keep us from getting from one side of town to the other.

Caleb Martin said...

Jean Smart's turn as First Lady to Gregory Itzin's "not-Nixon" POTUS on "24" was also stellar. I saw a season finale screening with both of them seated next to each other on the Q&A panel, and their chemistry together was even more electric in person.

Jean Smart's just one of the best.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I hope you're right about "HACKS." But critics said "Schitt$ Creek" was funny, but I haven't laughed once.

On Thursday's podcast blog you had Mike Reiss as a guest. Coincidentally, over the weekend the DECADES network ran a "Sledge Hammer" binge. Reiss and Al Jean, et al were story editors on that sitcom. If you've never seen it, "Sledge Hammer" is basically absurdist humor. It's part "Get Smart," part "Police Squad," part "Dirty Harry." Most of it was pretty dumb, but it did have some truly funny moments.

I don't know if you talked about "Hammer" on the podcast. But I'd love to know what Mike thought about that show.

M.B.

P.S. "Sledge Hammer" only ran two seasons. It was lucky to stay on that long. It aired opposite "COSBY."

Bucky Sinclair said...

Oh, I don't know. I've seen all eight episodes so far, and I think it's a case of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The acting, settings, dialogue, direction, etc. are fantastic, but the series feels just "quite good" rather than "really great."

Kevin from VA said...

Ken "vaccinations cure everything Levine"?

They pretty much cured polio and smallpox.

ByKenLevineFan said...

Hey Ken,

Friday question -- or any day: did you watch the "Friends" reunion & if so, what did you think?

Thanks!

Steve Mc said...

I never saw 'Late Night' with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson but online comments suggest the premise is the same. Is this an example of where casting and execution elevate one project over another similar one?

Bradley said...

I love Jean Smart and her high tide definitely floats all boats here. This show will appeal to old school comedy fans, of which I consider myself. No new territory is being charted here, but the familiar is comforting and I find that more than satisfactory. If Jean Smart does not win the Best Comedy Actress Emmy award, I will be surprised.

Joel Keller said...

Here's a Friday Question for you, Ken, something that has had me curious for almost 40 years (I saw these episodes in reruns):

Did Mike Farrell grow a mustache on his own between seasons 6 and 7 or did you and David ask him to do it? It seems to have come with a change in BJ's character, where the clean-cut guy from Mill Valley is showing cracks in the armor due to all the horrors he's seen since he came to Korea. So it could have been part of a purposeful shift in his character.

Or he grew the 'stache over the break, didn't want to shave it, and you and the staff found an opportunity there. The irony is that Mike was stuck with the lip hair until the end of the series, even though it got fainter and shorter as time went on.

slgc said...

We just watched the first episode based on your recommendation. Thanks - we enjoyed it, and would never have found it otherwise.

Jim Sevin said...

“Put your brother on!”

James Prichard said...

I completely agree with your opinion of the show and the performances by the two main actors. Hannah's agent's self-entitled assistant is even hilarious. Episode 5, "Falling", was at once hysterically funny and deeply moving—one of the best half-hours of TV I've seen in a very long time.

Tom Galloway said...

Don't have HBO Max so don't have an opinion on the show, but it's a truly horrible title. I understand it relates to the concept of hacking out material, but comedian on the skids in Vegas is *way* down on my list of of what I associate with the word "hacks". Being in computers, obviously all those associations. Having worked at MIT and organized a few, "hacks" as pranks pulled off by the MIT culture for same. Having known people who wrote for the pulps, hack writers of fiction and the like. Etc. At best, its use for this scenario is at the "generic use of the term" level. Couldn't someone have come up with a better/more descriptive title?

Jason V. said...

Tom Galloway said...

Don't have HBO Max so don't have an opinion on the show, but it's a truly horrible title. I understand it relates to the concept of hacking out material, but comedian on the skids in Vegas is *way* down on my list of of what I associate with the word "hacks".

I know what you mean, Tom! As an axe murderer, "comedian on the skids in Vegas" isn't what I associate with the word "hacks" either! If only they had asked us, right?

Owlchum said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes. Hacks is the first show in a long time where it's appointment TV night for us. Can't wait for Thursdays.

Headacher said...

This is day old news now, but I'll comment. I had not heard about this show but did watch the first two episodes now based on Ken's review. Jean Smart was very good as she usually is. However, there is absolutely nothing new here. I've seen each and every one of these characters before in other TV shows or movies. Also, I didn't find any of the stand-up jokes even the least bit funny. I'll keep watching because of Jean Smart. Thanks for the recommendation.

LaBarge said...

For any who has Comcast cable TV (also called Xfinity, a fake word I really hate), there will be free play of HBO Max June 17-21. For now I believe anyone can watch the first episode of "Hacks," because the networks want to hook people and let them watch some shows' first episodes. Then starting June 17 you can watch the rest of the "Hacks" episodes.

stephen catron said...

Thanks for the recommendation. It's not the best, but we liked it and found the young writer adorkable so we'll continue with it.

Artie in Sin City said...

Oh, come on up and join us here in Sin City...All we want is YOUR money honey!

Sergio said...

I loved Hacks. And I also love Ted Lasso. Both amazing. I like the writing, the characters, well everything :-)

Scott Mumford said...

Another one of those shows that I so want to enjoy--but haven't yet. One of those shows where I watched the entire season hoping it would get better. Jean Smart is a wonderful actress, but the dramatic moments in this show work much better than the comedy--which doesn't land for me at all. Comedies should actually make you laugh, right? I had a similar problem with Mrs. Maisel--just not as funny as it thinks it is. A real disappointment, unfortunately.

Leighton said...

Excellent show, all around. Jean Smart's return is wonderful. Loved her in "Mare," and "Dirty John." Yes, I watch "Designing Women" and "Frasier" constantly, and have appreciated her for 35 years.