Why you should be watching Hacks
Ivan Radford | On 01, Apr 2022
Is there anything more satisfying than watching a good double-act in its stride? From French and Saunders and Reeves and Mortimer to Key and Peele and Lazy Susan, one of the best things in comedy is simply seeing performers and writers click into a groove that feels seamless and natural. Hacks, HBO Max’s comedy that has finally arrived on UK TV screens, is a masterclass in the art of the double-act – not least because, at first, our central couple can’t stand each other.
Jean Smart takes the centre stage in the sitcom as Deborah Vance, a tough-skinned veteran of the US comedy circuit who is currently living the life in Las Vegas, where she has a residency. Except, beneath that successful, well-varnished reputation lies the truth that she’s a dwindling comedy force, with an audience full of fans – but none of them new. With the owner of the casino where she’s not selling out each night keen to bring in a bigger box office hit – “We’ve got to appeal to the youth”, runs the argument, as names like Pentatonix are thrown about – Vance’s manager, Jimmy (Paul W Downs), takes the desperate step of getting her a younger writer to zhuzh up up her act.
The writer in question? Ava (Hannah Einbinder), who has been blacklisted after tweeting about the son of a closeted senator coming out. She desperately takes the gig, but fails to conceal her disdain for Vance’s stalwart career. Vance, meanwhile, can’t understand how someone describing themselves as a comedy writer can’t write a joke with a good old-fashioned punchline.
Needless to say, it’s only a matter of time until they start to get on and understand each other, but what works about Hacks is the fact that it’s in no hurry to get there. Crucial to that is the way that the scripts treat both players with respect, from Ava’s frustrations at trying to find some kind of success in an industry that requires hustle to Vance’s pained awareness that, even after the hard graft to make it as a woman in comedy, things only get harder. There’s no race to dismiss Ava’s younger perspective, but there’s also no rush to mock Vance’s experiences, and that delicate balance of sympathy and smarts makes for rounded characters and rewarding conversations, even as they’re laced with barbed one-liners and witty retorts.
Crucial to all this, of course, is having the performances to match, and Einbinder and Smart are a dream duo. Smart is gloriously glamorous and gently faded, while Einbinder is believably stubborn and proud, while still being vulnerable enough to learn something from her seasoned employer. The result is funny and warm – and a showcase for a double-act that’s really got legs.