TV: Hacks (Season 2)

The second season of HBO Max’s ribald comedy Hacks brings the series to a satisfying conclusion—or it would have, had the show been canceled. Fortunately, it’s been picked up, making the  second-session finale look more like cautious writer’s-room planning than a calculated exit strategy. I, for one, will be happy to see it continue.

Hacks is about the relationship between a legendary, wealthy comedian named Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and the young writer reluctantly assigned to work with her, Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder). Initially set in Las Vegas, the show chronicles their contentious relationship as Deborah attempts to retool her act with Ava’s help. In season two, they take the show on the road after Deborah leaves her long-running casino residency to reinvent herself with a new, more confessional set, co-written with Ava. Despite early hiccups, the two spirited women have developed a certain working rapport, but it’s always been shot through with shouting matches and generational clashing. Just when it looks like they’re starting to get on the same page, an impulsive professional betrayal by Ava inspires ruthless retaliation from Deborah, which makes their close-quarters road trip an emotionally charged battlefield.

After a stellar season opener, season two’s tour bus spins its wheels occasionally, driving Deborah’s cruelty and Ava’s suffering into a cringey rut. It also misdirects too much energy toward their agent Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) in a disconnected subplot about his struggles to tame an epically inept assistant named Kayla (Megan Stalter). Stalter stole so many scenes in season one, she practically demanded more screen time, but ultimately—through no fault of Downs or Stalter—this side business is an over-correction. Fortunately, the second half starts to click more consistently, both comically and creatively, as it finds new things to say about the core friendship, which remains intense and memorable. The final episode brilliantly points both characters toward interesting and different futures—which would have capped off the show nicely, but now promises to reinvent the series for its next season.

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