'Hacks' Season 2: Jean Smarter than Ever

I always have trouble referring to shows like Hacks as “comedies.” It feels so reductive, like calling Meryl Streep an actress, or Amazon a book store. Yes, technically both things are true, but they are so much more than that basic description suggests. The same goes for comedy television. Long gone are the days when the only goal was to get as many laughs per minute in the half-hour allotted. Showrunners are experimenting with new ways to tell nuanced, thematic stories all while making you snort out your drink every few minutes. The only thing that separates today’s best comedies from the dramas is the thirty-minute run time.

The second season of Hacks is just four hours in total, but it manages to bring its main two-season arc to a satisfying end while also doing justice to its side characters’ stories. It’s short, sweet, and, quite frankly, the best season of television since Fleabag season two.


Season two picks up right where the first ends: Deborah (Jean Smart) has finally accepted Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as her writing partner, and they’ve decided to continue working on Deborah’s new show. That acceptance proves tortuous to Ava, because at the end of season one, she emailed a producer a list of all the terrible things Deborah has done, which is bound to be used as material for an upcoming TV series about a jerk boss. The dramatic irony works flawlessly. The new appreciation Deborah shows Ava is dripping with tension, and we’re left wondering what’s going to happen if/when Deborah finds out.


Though it markets itself as a show about an aging comedian, the heart of Hacks has always been about Ava and Deborah’s relationship. Boomer comedy meets Zoomer comedy, old Hollywood meets New Hollywood, classic outlooks on cultural ideology meets youthful free-thinking. The conflict has always revolved around the push/pull of both protagonists thinking they’re right, then fighting it out, then eventually agreeing somewhere in the middle. Their relationship continues to be the main arc of season two, and Ava’s email adds a layer of tension not present in season one.

In the first episode of season two, Deborah decides that they’re taking her show on the road, which introduces the main plotting vehicle for the season. It’s nice getting a few new locations, as the first season mainly took place in Vegas. The exploration of the United States plays nicely as a metaphor for Deborah’s own journey: she’s at the point in her career where she doesn’t know where to call home. Vegas seems like it’s done with her, and after grounding a show there for the last couple of decades, she’s searching for relevance anywhere else.


I’ll now state the obvious: Jean Smart is pitch-perfect in Hacks. Her performance is layered with grief, regret, passion, hope, anger, and good humor. It’s no accident that countless scenes feature Deborah staring at a mirror. Hacks is a show about self-reflection, and how no matter how great of a legacy one might have, the pursuit of greatness never lets up. Jean Smart has been in the industry for over 40 years, and I sincerely hope Hacks goes on for another ten seasons because I never want to experience TV without her. Smart won an Emmy for her time as Deborah in season one, and there’s no way she doesn’t take it home again this year.

Of course, Hacks can only be successful if both protagonists are given equal attention, and, fortunately, the season elevates Ava’s story as well. Between dealing with the recent passing of her father and the stress of the tell-all email, Ava’s got a lot on her plate. That being said, she’s in a much better spot mentally because, for the first time in her life, she has a mother figure that truly understands her.


Deborah’s importance to Ava grows even stronger throughout season two, and somewhere during this season, I realized that Hacks is actually a love story. There aren’t many shows on television that dare explore platonic love like Hacks, and it’s incredibly refreshing to see a show that thrives on depictions of female relationships. Not since Girls has a comedy felt this honest about friendship. Ava and Deborah have a strained relationship, to put it lightly, but throughout this season, we get glimpses of Ava’s complete adoration of Deborah. Just like in real life, it’s the small things that show how much you love someone, and both Deborah and Ava speckle in bits of kindness to each other throughout the season.

Season two of Hacks ends in a way that feels like it could be the series finale, but I sincerely hope that this isn’t the last that we see of Deborah and Ava. Although the first season made me giggle here and there, this season elicited belly laughs and tears (both happy and sad). There isn’t a single moment in the season when I wasn’t hopelessly in love with it. Hacks is the product of a perfected craft, and exactly what you get when the writers, directors, actors, editors, and everyone else on the production are firing on all cylinders. Is it possible for another season to top this one? That’s an arduous request, but I don’t even think that topping it is necessary. Just give us more Jean Smart at the top of her game, and we’re good.


Hacks season 2 is streaming now on HBO Max.


-Cameron

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