Deborah Vance is an arsonist, comedian, mother, friend and, most importantly, an icon in HBO Max’s “Hacks.” The show is a wonderful portrayal of the complexity of characters and does a great job showcasing an unlikely friendship and mentorship between longtime comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and her unwanted Gen Z ghostwriter Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder).
“Hacks” has taken the entertainment world by storm, with Jean Smart winning this year’s Emmy for Lead Comedy Actress and the show receiving a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series 2021. The show has rave reviews in Vulture, The New Yorker and Variety. The consensus of reviews agree that the show is addictive, genuinely funny and sparks dialogues about important questions.
At the start of the show, while Deborah lives a fast-paced life of glamour and hustle during the day, she ends her nights alone in her Las Vegas fortress with her only company being her house staff and two corgis.
When Ava loses her support system and Los Angeles lifestyle after being cancelled for making a homophobic tweet about a conservative senator’s reaction to his son being gay, she’s disillusioned from the Los Angeles lifestyle and spiraling out of control. She can’t afford her home, she and her girlfriend have split and the only gig her manager can find her is helping Deborah write jokes to keep her image fresh so she can keep her stand-up gig at the Palmetto Casino, all to Deborah’s dismay. These circumstances are the perfect recipe for a pressure cooker of craziness and desperation, which comes out deliciously in both of the main characters.
The moment these two characters meet, viewers are transported to a world of wit, dark humor and Zoomer versus Boomer. Deborah’s flowing dresses and false lashes are quite different to Ava’s combat boots and sailor T shirts. Ava’s cocky and Deborah’s dismissive. This striking difference between the two lends to a witty banter that brings them closer, and I found their ability to poke fun at themselves and each other refreshing in a world today where we are often hyper-sensitive and self-aware.
I loved watching Ava and Deborah’s friendship grow from a rivalry to a mutual respect and the ways in which the two face off in verbal and sometimes even physical sparring, while still communicating in their own unique and secret love language.
Another aspect of the show I loved was the way that comedy and seriousness are used to depict real-world problems in a way that feels authentic and witty. Deborah copes with her failed relationship with her daughter, a false accusation of burning her ex-husband’s house down and constant sexism in the entertainment industry with self-deprecation and laughter. She’s able to take the reins when life doesn’t go her way by marketing her hardships to boost her success. She doesn’t let critics and rumors get in her way; in fact, they’re launchpads for jokes in her stand-up set.
One of the most moving lines in the show for me was when Deborah is doing an interview and says stand-up is the only time she doesn’t feel alone, and that we are born alone and die alone and that so many people are afraid to accept that. To me, this demonstrates how Deborah and Ava’s story is an exploration of loneliness and companionship.
The two women are both single and alienated from their families, finding home in their work life. Ava even finds herself fantasizing about Deborah, but she realizes it’s because she’s only ever associated intimacy with sex. This opens an interesting dialogue about what intimacy is today, and if relationships are a magic fix to the emptiness and loneliness that people feel.
I finished the show realizing that confidence comes from within, not from the people around you. Self-understanding, confidence and pride give us fulfillment, not just being a wife or mother or girlfriend. Deborah’s staff grapples with similar issues that Deborah had with her daughter and ex-husband — whether it’s possible to have a high-powered career while being a present, committed partner to their significant other.
Deborah’s Chief Operating Officer Marcus’ (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) entire life revolves around Deborah. He’s been on the road with her, plans her day down to the minute and knows what makes her tick. His relationship with his boyfriend is sacrificed when he spends too much time at work, which made me intrigued and question my own personal priorities.
Should work trump our personal lives? What do we do when our significant others disapprove of our careers? The answer isn’t clear cut. The show insinuates that it’s okay to let our careers take the driver’s seat, but it’s a lonely and difficult road. We should find a chosen family, a support system, a way to cope with the tough realities that come with aging and reality.
I think Vegas is the perfect setting for the show. With the focus on Ava being cancelled, Vegas is a total culture shock for her from Los Angeles. Deborah makes it clear that in Vegas, anything goes. Everyone is unique, and there’s such an oversaturation of eccentricity that nobody is shocked anymore.
Ava finds Deborah’s unfiltered honesty and acceptance to be both refreshing and shocking, and I enjoyed the show’s clash between filtered Gen Z perspectives and an older, more raw perspective. Both Ava and Deborah learn from each other, and are pushed to grow and change their ways.
This show is worth a watch. Its dialogue is more than just funny; it’s compelling and digs deeper into issues like ageism, sexism, work-life balance and cancel culture. If you want a 10- episode escape into a world of comedy battles, LED face masks, drug trips, comedy skits, blackmail, jewelry expos and drive-through weddings, then dive into the world of “Hacks.”
Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major and loves her pugs, iced coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.