Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder Make “Hacks” HBO Max’s Can’t-Miss Series

Hacks is an HBO Max series about two women of certain ages and generations, who are both at a crossroads in their careers. While the show revolves around comic topics, current events, and the supposedly “natural” evolution of a comic’s career, there’s something deeper and grittier going on. REALLY, this show is about Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) – two women who are each hanging on by a fraying thread. They need each other and they despise that fact. It’s that golden material AND the epic acting that has already nabbed the show 15 Emmy Nominations.


Who is Deborah? 

Deborah Vance is the Queen of Sin City. She’s a stand-up comic from the old-school comedy club circuit, but she has sacrificed a lot to get to the top. A poignant moment in the show was when Ava found the unaired tape of Deborah’s dream gig as the first female late-night talk show host.  

In an interview, Jean Smart says of that moment: “The hard part, the hardest part, I suppose, is to see the family that she lost and remembering how happy she was at that precise moment and not knowing that she was like, right on the edge of a cliff.” 

That was the last moment before she plummeted into a very different, more difficult life. She’d soon find out that her husband cheated on her with her sister. She would be blamed for a fire that destroyed his house, and she soon found herself as a single mom, performing in small comedy clubs.  

Then, she started telling a story about burning down her ex-husband’s house. Even though it was a lie, she told Ava: “I realized that people would rather laugh at me than believe me.” She had already lost so much due to the lie. At least, using it for comedy gold let her control the narrative, and she made money off it for the first time.  

She’s done whatever it took to survive and thrive in a male-dominated comedy-club culture, but she knows what she lost along the way. She was misunderstood and mistreated, but she’s not the only famous woman to have undergone the slings and arrows of celebrity culture at its most absurd and show business in all its sexist glory.  


Who is Ava?  

Ava Daniels is a young, college dropout (she’s Gen-Z as she reminds everyone). She’s also a would-be, up-and-coming comedy writer, with reference points that are enmeshed in the internet and current pop culture. She wrote a controversial tweet and got booted out of LA’s lucrative comedy circles. If the end of her career wasn’t bad enough, her girlfriend broke up with her and she’s being given no choice but to work for Deborah Vance in a half-hearted attempt to resuscitate her floundering career. 

In a lot of ways, Ava is at a point roughly parallel to the moment when Deborah’s career plummeted from the cliff. Where Deborah made it back up to the pinnacle of her career, Ava is just trying to figure out if she has a comedy-writing life left to salvage. As Deborah rightly reminds her, though, her fall from grace hardly compares to what she went through. 

What Do They Become Together?  

In Episode 2, Deborah says, “You think this is hard? You got plucked off the internet at, what, 20? You just got lucky!” Even if Ava was lucky in being “discovered” so young, she’s still been tossed aside. It’s a case of accidental camaraderie that becomes a collusion of talents and intelligent wit, but it’s also a story of redemption, love, and companionship.  

Through the season, they’re evolving a sense of mutual respect, as they grow to understand and appreciate each other’s sensibilities. It’s impossible not to be drawn into their lives, to revel at those moments of self-awareness, and to mourn those moments of lost opportunity. It’s true that life is messy. It’s rarely easy or fair.  

The Unexpected Curveballs in Life 

As just one more example of the unexpected curveballs that life throws, Jean Smart’s husband, Richard Gilliland, died on March 18, 2021, while they were still filming Hacks. In an interview with The New Yorker, she says, “You know, I feel like I just should say something about my husband, because he passed away very unexpectedly. I still had a week of Hacks left to do. That was hard. I had to do a funeral scene.” 

She says, “I was a wreck…” and ends with: “It’s been really weird. It’s not anything I ever dreamed would happen. Not so soon. He made me laugh all the time. That’s going to be hard to live without.”  

Life does have a way of informing fiction, but she continues on. In a more lighthearted moment with TODAY, she says, “You got to make hay while the sun shines, especially if the roles are really, really good.” After all, she says, “I really couldn’t say ‘no’ to any of those parts.” 

There is also that moment when she talks about her husband. She says, “I know he loved the ‘Hacks’ script. He thought they were brilliantly written, very funny and it’s just hard not to share that with him.” Still, she has shared her talent with the world in an unforgettable way.  


If you haven’t had a chance to watch Hacks yet, now’s your chance. We’d love to hear your comments on Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, and Hacks! Please leave your comments below.  

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