The awesome Jean Smart in Hacks series on HBO

I loved Jean Smart in Hacks because she has courage and impersonates a great woman, despite all her flaws, her talent stands up and her humanity.

Hacks is rare in its ability to be genuinely funny and dramatic in equal measure. I burst out laughing several times per episode, but when the show asked me to feel things for its characters, it was always able to make that leap. Especially in the last two episodes of the six that were sent to critics, Hacks pivots nimbly among a wide variety of tones, largely thanks to how adept Smart and Einbender are as performers and how strong their chemistry is.

On its surface, Hacks, a new half-hour comedy on HBO Max, is a straightforward showbiz comedy. Jean Smart (the living legend and multiple Emmy winner who’s been in everything from Designing Women to Watchmen) plays Deborah Vance, a famous comedian whose glory days are behind her. She came up in an industry that wasn’t kind to women comedians, and she has an almost predatory sense of how to hold onto her diminishing empire. But as the show begins, the Las Vegas casino that employs her is seriously trimming back her 100-nights-a-year show. She won’t even be performing on Fridays and Saturdays.

Deborah’s agent has a suggestion for her: Hire a younger comedy writer to help her spice up her material. And he has just the woman in mind — who just so happens to be one of his other clients, an out-of-work writer named Ava (Hannah Einbender). Ava’s comedy style is heavily influenced by the absurdist streak of jokes that tend to play well on social media. Deborah can’t stop needling Ava over how she seems averse to writing punchlines, and at first, it seems as though the two won’t be able to work together. But c’mon. This is a TV show. They’re going to end up working together.

It’s when Smart and Einbender can bounce off of each other that Hacks ascends from showbiz comedy to something with broader appeal. Hacks is interested in the ways that women in male-dominated industries are constantly one mistake away from having their careers seriously undermined. Deborah carved out a niche for herself in the 1970s and ’80s, but it was far from the life she might have had if she were a man who was half as funny. And Ava’s career is on the skids because she tweeted a joke that caused loud voices on the internet to hound her until she lost her job writing for a TV show. ” – Vox

”“There isn’t light without dark, there isn’t comedy without tragedy,” Jean Smart says, sitting back in her pink paisley print chair. She’s talking about the vast variety of roles on her resume. Lately, in Hacks, she’s Deborah Vance – A Joan Rivers-esque Vegas stand-up comic with a hosting sideline on QVC, and in Mare of Easttown, another HBO show, she’s Helen Fahey, the feisty, big-hearted mom to Kate Winslet’s beleaguered blue collar cop.” –

”Hacks currently has a 100 percent Tomatometer score at Rotten Tomatoes, with the audience score being slightly lower at 89 percent. Most reviews praise Smart’s performance as an aging comedian who doesn’t fully understand millennial culture yet still shows a willingness to adapt her Vegas routine. As Deborah Vance, Smart conveys the arrogance of a privileged celebrity, and shows an endearing side while delivering brutally honest advice to her protege-in-the-making, Ava. Since Einbinder only has a couple industry credits to her name, audiences may be surprised by her on-screen charisma and strong comedic chemistry with Smart. For what it’s worth, Einbinder is in fact the daughter of an original Saturday Night Live cast member, Laraine Newman. Here are some glowing takes on the HBO Max show Hacks.


“Watching and enjoying it is enough, but Smart and Einbinder make us want to sit with these two, Smart especially, as Deborah and Ava enrich each other’s existence.”

Los Angeles Times:

“[Einbinder] has only a few small acting credits… But she’s confident and at ease and does a remarkable job of embodying a seemingly awful person who doesn’t think she’s awful and who, not all that deep down, isn’t that awful at all.”

Chicago Sun-Times:

“This is a big, brilliant, wholly original performance, with Smart constantly shifting emotional gears and deftly stealing every scene she’s in while somehow also managing to make room for the other actors in the room to have their moments.”


“Every time Smart is onscreen, she makes you curious to hear what’s going to come out of her mouth but even more curious to hear how she’s going to say it.”

As some reviews have noted, Hacks isn’t necessarily about people who are exceptionally funny in every situation (a la Seinfeld), but rather about two women from different generations who learn more about themselves and each other through their creative process. So, audiences should indeed expect bad jokes, as the HBO Max series shows how the leads develop comedy over time, and how they tweak their material based on audience reactions. What’s especially intriguing about Hacks is that Deborah and Ava are constantly performing for each other, which results in raw feedback and accelerating growth as performers. Here are some additional takes on the show:

The Boston Globe:

“The HBO Max comedy is first and foremost a vehicle for [Jean Smart], one that starts off shakily but gets sturdier with each new half-hour.”

Rolling Stone:

“Would it help if the jokes the two work on were stronger? Sure, but Hacks also talks a lot about how hard good joke-writing is. It gets everything else right, so it deserves the extra time to figure that last part out.”

Sioux City Journal:

“While ‘Hacks’ may be a harsh title for something this deliciously good, it captures the price some are willing to pay for celebrity. Brands may change but desire doesn’t.”

The Spool:

“Away from the stage, the writing feels far more surefooted, juggling how people can be capable of both kindness and incredible spite.” ”

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