Quick thoughts on HBO’s Hacks

I struggle with shows like Hacks where what seems like the main thing is really just the car for the main thing to ride in. Hacks’ main thing is the relationship between a Las Vegas comedy legend, Deborah Vance, who’s resisting the end of her career and a young comedy writer trying to save hers after being canceled over a Twitter post. Their relationship plays out in the course of the writer, Ava, being thrust into the role of Deborah’s first writing partner. Ava’s job is the car in my tortured analogy.

It’s not that I don’t like shows setup this way. I actually do. But it takes a while for me to get there, and that’s the bumpy part. After the characters come together in Las Vegas (Ava begins in Los Angeles) and Deborah accedes to having a writer for the first time in her 40-year career, I’m expecting Hacks to be an office comedy with plots driven by what they need to do during the course of their work. Deborah’s got a show tonight? Something weird happens to Ava and they work it into the act.

Hacks could probably do good at being that show. The writing is sharp and there’s enough chemistry between the two actors to make it enjoyable. Instead it moves the work into the background so the relationship can take center stage. Because of that, it shines.

One episode has the pair going to a spa retreat for Deborah to get a touchup on her eyelids, only for Ava to end up in the hospital with an exploded cyst. By the time the episode ends they are no closer to refreshing Deborah’s act or saving the weekend gigs keeping her career alive, but their bond is stronger through the shared experience. I complain a lot about shows that sacrifice character for plot—La Brea cough cough—so I was delighted to see Hacks be all about its two lead characters.

If I had any bone to pick it would be that Ava doesn’t seem to be a very good comedy writer. She is funny. Her and Deborah have thoroughly enjoyable fights with each insult eclipsing the last. But when Ava has to write for Deborah she can’t come up with anything, and we don’t see much of Deborah’s act at all so we don’t get a real sense for if Ava is actually helping her. I’m fine with that not being in the show’s background but I would like to see that Ava’s hope for a career in comedy is at least somewhat justified. The joke that got her canceled wasn’t even that funny. In fact the first episode closes with her and Deborah spitballing on what offensive jokes would have been better.

That said, Hacks is an easy watch and I recommend it as a show that can fill your pre-bedtime streaming slot.

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