Friday, June 11, 2021

TV Review: Hacks (HBO Max)


Hacks TV title card.jpg

With the explosion of different streaming platforms, we are seeing even more scripted series being dropped each month.  Based on the trailer, I decided to give Hacks on HBO Max a try.

I quit after the 3rd episode.

The show is about veteran stand-up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), whose long-running Vegas show is beginning to be sidelined for younger, hotter acts.  Her agent sends struggling comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) to help her become more relevant.  The two instantly dislike each other, but Deborah takes on Ava for some reason.  This opens Ava's experiences to Deborah's weird world of celebrity, with material luxuries, spoiled adult children, and massive egos.  

The reason I gave the show a chance was because of one scene in the trailer.  Ava is whining to Deborah about how good she is.  Deborah wheels around and says that being good is the bare minimum to have any future in this industry.

It reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada, where the older, prickly mentor helped the snobbish assistant get over herself and find her esteem in being competent at her job (at least that's how I understood the theme of that movie).  

Instead, every episode was simply Ava being a horrible person and expecting everyone to fall over themselves gushing about how wonderful she is.  At one point someone calls her out on this, saying that she always thinks she knows what's best for them, but doesn't have her own life figured out.  I've found this to be a trick that a lot of modern movies and shows are using: having someone point out the main character's biggest flaw so that the audience will excuse it.  But being aware of your vices is not the same as growing out of them.  Ava has an amazingly, narcissistic sense of her own worth as a comedian.

The worst part about it is that she isn't funny at all.

I know that humor is subjective, but everything she says is tinged with nastiness.  And throughout the episodes I've watched, her advice comes down to being even nastier and more stringent.  On top of this, the show constantly and inexplicably virtue signals with the strangest non-sequiturs.  At one point, Ava gets angry at Deborah and shouts at her "I hope you donate to Planned Parenthood."  It was such an odd, out of nowhere statement that assumes the virtue of helping kill unborn children.

The show has two things going for it.  First is that Jean Smart is fantastic.  She plays her character with a ragged pain and exhaustion that is constantly masked by the painted smile of a celebrity performer until the curtain closes.  She handles both the comedy and drama expertly.  If the show was given a different writing staff, this could have been an amazing vehicle for her talent.

The second is the production value.  The show makes Las Vegas look like an exciting and inviting place, full of color and life.  It does let us see some of its underbelly, but not enough to make you totally repulsed.

Hacks is one of those shows where the producers are so busy wanting to "say something" about women in the entrainment industry that it forgot that their primary job is to entertain.  But this only works if we have any kind of emotional investment in wanting to see the main characters succeed.

And in three episodes, they never got there.

Perhaps when the producers came up with the show's title, they were thinking about themselves.

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