Jean Smart stars in the HBO Max series “Hacks,” which takes viewers into the lives of a comedy headliner in Las Vegas. Sin City itself is part of the story as this veteran comedian maneuvers her way through her career, which is kind of waning.
Deborah (Smart) has been the main comedy headliner in Las Vegas for ages. Think of her as the mainstay of Vegas show business, making her residency in the town something she is proud of and holds in high regard. However, besides her Vegas show, Deborah is also a star on QVC, hawking all kinds of products.
Ava (Hannah Einbinder) is an out-of-work joke writer. In order for her to survive she has to take the job, albeit reluctantly, helping Deborah with her career, punching up jokes and adding some new life to her act. The two are definitely different and have different views of what the audiences want. Ava tries to bring her new boss into the 21st century while Deborah is reluctant to add a lot of this new style to her act.
“I feel a big responsibility, but it’s been so much fun that I haven’t really worried about it,” Smart said in a virtual press conference when asked about the strain of carrying a show on her shoulders. “We have an enormous amount of freedom, thanks to our amazing writer/producers and they let us improvise. And Hannah and I especially get a lot of time to work things through, work things out. And she’s hilarious, and she’s a comedienne, and so I was first sort of nervous to do stuff in front of her because she has done a lot of standup so (I felt) a little pressure.”
Deborah’s show is definitely not G rated, and viewers might think the actor took her lead from the late Joan Rivers, but she said she was not thinking of any particular comic when she filmed the show.
“Every once in a while there will be a scene or I’ll do something and I’ll think, ‘Oh, that kind of reminds me of so-and-so’,” she said.
When asked about women in Hollywood, especially those who are not ingénues any more, Smart replied, “I’ve had some of the most incredible opportunities in my career in the last several years, and I don’t take any of it for granted whatsoever. I’m very appreciative of the opportunities that have been offered to me. But at the same time, I wouldn’t encourage probably my daughter to be an actress. I don’t know. Because the thing is if you’re a mom, too, if you have kids, there’s always the feeling that you’re shortchanging either your job or your family kind of. That’s the hardest part to me is feeling like you’re not giving your all to one or the other.”
That is the feeling for women who are not in show business as well. It also applies to many men who are workaholics but also parents and do not want to shortchange either their careers or their families.
Einbinder has a stand-up career, but until this show she has not really spread her wings in the acting field.
“Hannah’s so good, she’s such a good actress, but you can say, ‘Well, if she’s so good she hasn’t done that much before this’,” Smart explained. “But the thing is, we were talking about this the other day, to be a good stand-up, you really kind of have to be a good actor. It’s like, also some of the great singers, you have to be a really good actor, that’s how you sell your materials.”
The show focuses on the relationship between the young woman and the veteran comedian: the tension, the camaraderie, the admiration, the respect, and the friendship. This is not a show that is meant for young viewers. There are drugs, alcohol, smoking and adult jokes. The acting is definitely first rate. Could there be an Emmy nod in the future for Smart? We’ll see.
“Hacks” streams on HBO Max.