Whatever is in the water at HBO Max — I want some. I just binge-watched another HBO Max show (following Barry last week), and it left me kicking myself wondering how I can miss such a good show the first time around.
It’s probably because I’m one of those people who wants a show to have a second season before I commit to diving in. Could the list of canceled Netflix shows that only made it one season actually be driving my brain to wait for a show to get renewed?
Either way, I just watched a whole first season of a show in less than a day — starting it on my evening walk last night, and only stopping to sleep before watching the final two episodes before work. And I’m not that kind of TV-watcher. I like to let a show breathe a little, not inhale it like I’m devouring a greasy plate at a midnight diner.
Which is kind of why I have been in a rush to binge-watch Hacks, an HBO Max comedy starring Jean Smart as veteran comedian and Las Vegas stalwart Deborah Vance. Hacks is about to come back, and so I’ve been in a mood to catch up. It’s one of those shows that gets new episodes on a weekly basis, and I really enjoy watching a show live as it airs. You get to chat about it with people week to week, and you don’t have the pressure to speed through it (guilty as charged).
So, here’s why Hacks — a show that pushed me through a huge range of emotions — should move up to the top of your queue.
Why I love Hacks so much
We know that the world of standup comedy is fraught with terrible men, or at least we should following the last decade or so. And while Hacks does include stories and examples of those discretions (and one terrible comedy night host comes to mind), it’s more about how difficult is is to be a “difficult” woman in this industry.
A workplace comedy where the workplace is Las Vegas, Hacks finds Deborah Vance (Smart) at a point in her career where (like many women in their older years) she’s being pushed to the side. Nearing her 2,500th show at the fictional Palmetto casino, Deborah is told by Palmetto CEO Marty Ghilain (Christopher McDonald aka Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore), that she’s going to be doing less shows from here on out. In fact, he wants to take her weekend show dates off the table. And this is where I started laughing.
When Deborah learns about the musical act that’s set to replace her, she loses her temper over the phone. It’s one of my favorite moments, partially because the a cappella group replacing her is so over the top and silly that you can’t help but take her side. Even if, you know, you don’t actually find her jokes that funny. Because here’s the thing about Deborah Vance’s comedy: it’s kind of broad. It’s not edgy. It’s not hip. And that’s part of her problem, as she’s not exactly changed her act over the years.
Enter Ava Daniels (newcomer Hannah Einbinder), a young up-and-coming comedy writer who has been basically-blackballed in the industry over a tweet about a hypocritical politician.
Ava and Deborah meet each other thanks to the nudging of Jimmy (Broad City’s Paul W. Downs), the manager they both employ. Neither likes the idea of working with the other: Deborah writes her own stuff and Ava almost turns her nose up at the idea of working with someone who sells caftans on QVC in their spare time.
And even though they clash at first, Deborah brings Ava on board after she snaps under the pressure of snide, belittling comments about her personal appearance. This, is how you earn a comedian’s trust: giving as good as you get. The two soon make for a watchable-yet-difficult workplace, as Deborah makes Ava self-conscious about her body and asks too many personal questions.
That said, as the two get to know each other, Hacks won me over. Deborah and Ava are both flawed people worth rooting for, who start rooting for each other. Ava’s a mess in the best way, and Deborah’s hard shell was developed after some pretty brutal betrayals. I won’t spoil any of it, but at least one reveal actually surprised me.
Why you should watch Hacks tonight
Finishing Hacks as fast as I could wasn’t exactly necessary. Its first season is 10 episodes long and each is around a half an hour. And Hacks comes back on May 12, giving you more than enough time to watch one episode a day, and skip a day if you need to.
But don’t blame me if you just find yourself hypnotized by Hacks, like Ava at the Vegas slots. But keep your eyes out for the four middle episodes.
Hacks’ best episodes
From “Falling” (episode 5) through “1.69 Million” (episode 8), Hacks goes on an absolute tear. Not only is Falling an absolute roller-coaster of an episode, but Deborah’s daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) gets some amazing moments in “Tunnel of Love” (episode 7). The best of the bunch is arguably “New Eyes,” which could have been the episode that Jean Smart sent in for awards consideration.
So, make sure that you have about two hours free if you turn on episode 5 — you may just need to finish it. That said? Hacks doesn’t plateau after episode 8. Episode 10 gets surprisingly heartwarming and sad, in ways that I was truly impressed.
I binge-watched Hacks seasons 1 and have no regrets. Part of my motivation is that we’re in a very good moment for new TV shows, and that’s just on HBO Max. The Flight Attendant season 2 and Made for Love season 2 drop new episodes every Thursday (and Atlanta season 3 always sneaks up on me on Thursday nights).
Barry season 3 arrives with new editions every Sunday, and the rest of my hours are going to start to be filled with then there’s shows I know I need to give a chance. Our Flag Means Death and We Own This City both sit there in my queue, and I know I need to watch them already.
So, seriously: give Hacks a chance if you haven’t already. Try it again if you need to. Just make sure you don’t go too wild the next time you go to Vegas. Hacks will show you why that’s a bad idea.
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