Sunday, January 23, 2022

REVIEW: Jean Smart Is No "Hack" on HBO Series

Jean Smart in "Hacks" on HBO
I'm catching up with HBO shows since managing to subscribe two minutes before the premiere of the 20th season of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher—and was rewarded with a funny and poignant New Rule about Senate Gary Candidate Chambers smoking weed in his campaign ad. 

Another reward: Catching Jean Smart's tour-de-force performance as the acerbic, veteran Las Vegas stand-up comic Deborah Vance in "Hacks." 

In the series, Deborah reluctantly hires the self-involved young writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as a joke writer. Ava is smart, sarcastic, and a somewhat stereotypical twenty-something. She sends a naked selfie to her ex, and takes Molly and cocaine to excess with a guy she meets, who encourages her to take a leap before tragically taking one of his own. It's established that Ava gets high when Deborah questions why she's been charged for three chicken parmesan dinners sent to Ava's hotel room in a single night. 


In Episode 6 ("New Eyes"), Deborah has an "eyelid refresh" at a spa/surgery center and takes Ava along for the weekend. Deborah, who pronounces that she doesn't like marijuana (saying, "Why would I want to take something that makes me feel lazy and hungry too?"),  agrees to take a cannabis gummy to deal with her pain when offered by Ava, who joins her. The two are soon laughing together and sharing insights about their lives, something women tend to do when they use cannabis together (but is rarely seen on TV or in films). 

Comparisons between Deborah Vance and Joan Rivers are inevitable; both were nearly (or briefly) the first woman to host a late-night talk show. Rivers smoked pot on her reality show in 2012 and told TMZ she smoked with Betty White and others back in the day. Some might compare "Hacks" with the less realistic "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," in which the title character smokes pot with Lenny Bruce

Smart, who leapt to fame in her breakout comedic role in TV "Designing Women" and won two Supporting Actress Emmys for her hilarious portrayal of Frazier's déclassé girlfriend. She took home a Best Actress Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance in the first season of "Hacks," and they're well deserved: The montage of her performing the same jokes in various costumes that starts Episode 5 alone is stunning. 

Lucia Aniello, who wrote and produced the pot-filled "Broad City," won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for the pilot, and shared the Outstanding Writing Emmy for the same episode. Aniello's 2016 Time Traveling Bong movie with Illana Glaser of "Broad City" is streaming on Paramount Plus. 

I could find little of Smart's work, including her acclaimed role in The Man Who Came to Dinner, streaming anywhere. I hope that will change now that she's got her teeth into such a juicy role.  A second series of "Hacks," which also won the Golden Globe for best TV comedy, is forthcoming. 

Laraine Newman and daughter Hannah Einbinder
Einbinder, who was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her role on "Hacks," is a stand-up comedienne herself who made her national television debut with her stand-up act in March 2020 on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."  She is also the daughter of Laraine Newman, one of the original three women who starred on Saturday Night Live. Newman tweeted out her classic mock SNL American Dope Growers Union ad on 4/20/2020. 

Hannah told Nylon.com that in high school, "I was on a high prescription of Adderall for many years, then also constantly smoking weed to cut the effects. I was just pretty much high for many years." She added, "I have an unscientific theory that the years of Adderall and weed carved out my neural pathways, working together to create the hyper-analytical, critical mind that you need to do comedy."

"When you share a sense of humor with someone, you make each other better," says Smart as Deborah, and she's right. Laughter, and cannabis, are the best medicines, especially when taken together. 

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