Season 2 of HBO’s award-winning comedy takes us on tour with Deborah and Ava, plus a bevy of guest stars.
Season 1 of Hacks literally left things up in the air with Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder), as they boarded Vance’s private jet back to Las Vegas. Deborah has convinced reluctant writer Ava to join her on tour. Unbeknownst to Deborah, Ava’s aired their dirty laundry via email to a team of British writers, who are keen to use the material as inspiration for a horrible boss-type sitcom. Ava’s in full crisis mode when news of her email reaches manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) as she boards the flight.
Season 2 picks up at the end of the flight, a jittery Ava reaching for her phone as soon as the plane hits the tarmac. She’s worried the news about her betrayal of Deborah will find its way to the comedy legend, throwing their mended relationship into chaos. Jimmy advises Ava to distance herself from Deborah until he can clear up her email. Deborah is focused on the tour, dragging Ava along and bringing the two of them closer than ever. It’s an engaging premise to start the second season of Hacks, the tension of Ava’s betrayal waiting to be revealed to a vulnerable Deborah, a comedy great struggling to build her new act. Lucky for us, the tension leads to some excellent comedic moments and dare I say sweet, tender connections in season two of Hacks.
Smart, who won an Emmy for her role as Deborah Vance, is back and better than ever. She’s opening herself up to the tour, playing in dive bars, local comedy huts, and even a lesbian cruise, trying to craft material that’s less self-deprecating than her previous act. However, she’s not all work – she lets loose on the road, engaging in an impromptu rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” and having a one-night stand with a much younger local man. There are still shades of the diva Deborah, such as taking a paintball gun to the new billboard of the magician replacing her at the Palmetto, or harassing the audience when her dated material is met with less enthusiasm on the cruise. It’s thrilling to see Smart navigate Deborah’s “rebirth,” balancing the diva, mean girl behavior with the vulnerable, open side as she retools her act and in a way, reworks her life.
Some of the highlights of season 2 of Hacks are the guest stars who drop in for the chaos and comedy. There’s Martha Kelly as Barbara, the HR representative tasked with the aftermath of Kayla’s (Meg Stalter) misguided seduction attempt on Jimmy in season 1. She’s perfection at deadpan humor and is a superb addition to the HR scenes opposite the outrageous Kayla and the straight man Jimmy. Harriet Sansom Harris pops in as Susan, a former comedian friend of Deborah whose retirement from stand-up may have been at the hands of Deborah. They have an episode to explore their relationship, the backdrop at a midwestern state fair – Deborah’s set to reveal her betrayal to Susan, but not without some of their old competitive ways coming up to the surface amongst funnel cakes and water games.
Surely the best guest star of season 2 of Hacks is Laurie Metcalf as Weed, Deborah’s new tour manager. Weed is a no-frills manager far from the glitz and glamour of the Vegas Strip, dressing in cargo shorts and a camo button-up shirt, professing the benefits of sleeping sitting up (she also appears to be a “big mattress” conspiracy theorist), subscribing to unique fast-food dining preferences (McDonald’s for fries, Burger King for the charbroiled burger, and Wendy’s for the Frosty). Metcalf commits hard to the straight-talking taskmaster, and it’s comedy heaven to see her act opposite Smart.
Season 2 of Hacks is a comedy buffet of comedic talents and surprisingly emotional moments.
There may be guest stars aplenty, but Einbinder as Ava gets to dig into some more material this season. Her anxiety is palpable as she awaits the potential blowback of her betrayal of Deborah. They are birds of the same feather, Deborah’s past betrayals in a sense mirror Ava’s, and there’s a weird delight in Deborah finding someone who matches her fighting style. They may have a dysfunctional boss/employee relationship, but there’s still admiration amongst each other, even if it results in a big blow-out fight. Plus, there’s a tender moment where Deborah helps teach Ava to swim in a hotel pool. It’s a delight to see Ava and Deborah open up to each other, even if they’re at each other’s throats.
Season 2 of Hacks is a comedy buffet of comedic talents and surprisingly emotional moments. The guest stars will surely elicit social media chatter. But make no mistake, the real star of Hacks will always be Jean Smart as Deborah Vance. So hop in the van and buckle up, because it’s going to be one chaotically comedic ride.
Season 2 of Hacks premieres on HBO Max today.