How ‘Hacks’ Makes Those TV Moments Hilarious
Deborah Vance is a trailblazer in a rut. Ava Daniels is hired to help the older woman brush up on her jokes.
It is the unconventional mentor-mentee relationship at the heart of hacks, HBO Max’s Emmy-winning cross-generational comedy that just released its second season.
Deborah (played by Jean Smart) and Ava (played by Hannah Einbinder) wash each other’s dirty laundry. They shoot each other. One of them is even trying to put the other out of business through a lawsuit.
Jen Statsky, one of the creators of hacks, says the writing team had a term for the dynamic between Deborah and Ava: Dark Mentorship.
“It’s not as pure as one person or the other person always inspiring the other, they hurt each other in a lot of ways,” she says. “It wouldn’t be realistic if they were just two perfect people.”
This premise of two flawed people trying to grow while doing a job they love is “the DNA of the show.”
Jen Statsky spoke with All things Considered host Ari Shapiro. Below are highlights of their conversation.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
On female comics working and thriving in a male-dominated industry:
As for Deborah and the women who appeared in Deborah’s time, I think she had to be twice as tough and twice as undeniable to go half as far. I just think the rules were very, very different for women like her and you weren’t allowed to show your vulnerability like other comedians were. Which actually means Deborah and women like her doing comedy was such a liability, because vulnerability is such an important part of being a comedian and what makes comedians interesting. I think in the show we see that Deborah’s material really starts to click the more vulnerable and honest she is.
Trust the process even when you have everything to lose:
[Deborah has] got to a level of success that a lot of comedians get to where she could kind of just rub shoulders with, she could just find a way to do the same old material and do these big shows that make a lot of money, but she wouldn’t not leveling up to a new creative stratosphere for her. But trying to do that is really scary. It’s really difficult. And I think one of the things that we decided to do in season two was to kind of do as faithfully as possible a depiction of what the creative process is and how difficult it is.
Inspired by comic book legends:
One of the greatest things about the show is that we’ve heard from these female comedians and performers who are hugely influential to us. People like Rosie O’Donnell or Wanda Sykes or Susie Essman. We wanted to do the show for women like that. We wanted to pay tribute to the women who have been doing what they have been doing so well for so long and who may not have been celebrated, or certainly not as much as they should be. And then we were very touched by the idea of how many women who got into acting or the arts because it was such an unwelcoming place for them, couldn’t tell their story, didn’t not continued. Because the path was so difficult and that made them much more difficult. So, we really wanted to highlight that, women who had to make a difficult choice, whose stories we haven’t heard.
On celebrating “one of TV’s weirdest shows”:
It wasn’t something we wanted to say, oh, and it’s going to be a queer show. It wasn’t designed that way. What it was really about was wanting to portray this Deborah Vance character and her ecosystem very honestly. And I think someone like Deborah and in history, women like that have become such important figures in the queer community. And we just felt that she would naturally be surrounded by characters who happen to be queer. For our show, you know, the idea was just to always portray the world as we see it and as we want it to be and our world is full of wonderful queer people living their lives and so that was in sort of just the intent behind it.
On the complete and perfect meal from three fast food chains:
Laurie Metcalf has a line in episode three about going to Burger King for the burgers, McDonald’s for the fries, and Wendy’s for the Frosty, like a complete meal. And I feel like it’s like the perfect fast food meal. This [scene] is my gift to hacks season two.
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