The following contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of “Hacks.”
And so we come to the end of Season 1 of “Hacks” on HBO Max. (I made a rhyme.) It’s the ending, not the end, because the show, in which Jean Smart plays Deborah, a Las Vegas mature-age comedy legend, and Hannah Einbinder plays Ava, who The 25-year-old comic writer who comes across in his work has been renewed for a second season. Nevertheless, some arcs have been ended momentarily, even as the seeds of future trouble, to be perpetuated by subsequent arcs, have been sown.
Among its other good qualities, “Hacks” represents the latest port in the ongoing cultural cruise recognizing Jean Smart as a great American actor, “Designing Women” (which was cool!) before her obituary. Introduced by the first line of “Legion,” “Watchmen,” “Fargo” and “Mare of Easttown.” Somehow, Deborah can be seen echoing Smart on the eve of this recognition: someone who had done a good job but had also become part of the cultural wallpaper, along the way, rather than an artist on a career plateau or gentle descent. For both, opportunities and choices have become more daring, and the future seems unwritten and exciting and ripe with promise.
At first, the “hacks” were hard to remedy – it seemed like the comedy promised something intrinsically pleasing, but it’s not really a show business story, just one set in that world against that backdrop. The story is To the extent that it examines the clash of arts and commerce, ideas about old and new that’s funny, and despite Deborah’s insults from Episode 8’s Comedy Club host—an actual hack that features bad sexist jokes— It is only to define characters, to analyze comic styles or to argue that on stage, telling jokes is better or worse than telling the truth. (Offstage, the series argues for the truth, of course.)
Deborah and Ava test each other until they begin to value each other for who they are – during a visit to a cosmetic surgery spa, about halfway through the season – after which further break up. And there is reconciliation and a climactic break. They’re working together on the eve of the premiere of a radically rewritten act, an act that Ava is sure is brilliant and which Deborah hopes won’t destroy her career in the least.
But we are not really worried about Deborah’s career, as she is quite rich and famous. With a 2,500-show residency behind her, a street named after her, and her own line of QVC products, she’ll find something to do with as much as the series portrays her as the world is ready to throw. Ava’s career doesn’t matter to us because the whole point of her story is that she grows from a man who cares about people to a man who gives up his fanatical and cynical attitude towards the world. Is – or reduces it, anyway – to something more open and positive. On a swing back through Los Angeles, she meets her old girlfriend Ruby (Lorenza Izzo), who observes, “There’s something different about you. You’re not spiraling or making me spiral.”
“I don’t know,” responds Ava, “I think maybe I’m like… happy?”
When Deborah decides to be honest with a reporter about the things she’s kept secret – her life is under wraps – and talks about the husband she shared a sitcom with In how he left her, because “ambition got in the way,” it silently echoed that he might be abandoned again. This time by Ava, who – she has become aware – may be about to leave her for greener, groovier pastures. Meanwhile, Ava learns that the warm British audience interested in working with her is most interested in telling stories about Deborah for a series about an evil boss. (They’re awesome, and like the sexist Comedy Club host, it’s a little easier to write for an audience.) Ava realizes she needs to choose a side, and for the first time in her life, it’s someone else’s side. “I don’t need your job,” she tells them. “I would rather keep my dignity.” And, leaving the table, takes a delirium.
The “hacks” that reveal themselves at the end is a love story, a type of romantic comedy, in which two people come to see each other where necessary, to let each other loose and when necessary. But hold each other accountable. One brings the wisdom and ego of youth and the other the wisdom and ego of age – each can see what the other cannot – and in rom-com parlance, they complete each other. It is not a matter of master-student or mother-daughter. Deborah has a daughter, a helpless problem child, played affectionately by Caitlin Olsen, and Ava a mother, a hysterical one played by the great Jane Addams, whose terrifying vision of Ava returning home has to be her own. The cat that lived in the old room required euthanasia. (Deborah’s jealous right hand, Marcus, played by Carl Clemons-Hopkins, is the third party in the Deborah-Ava triangle.)
When Deborah almost magically materializes at Ava’s father’s funeral, just before the close of the season, John Cusack is no longer playing Peter Gabriel for Eoin Skye on a boom box tossed over his head, Or Julia Roberts (just a girl) asking Hugh Grant (a). boy) to love her. But it is one of a kind—a moment that doesn’t erase whatever went wrong between them over the course of 10 episodes, but reclaims what’s right. This is the moment where we can have confidence that they will live happily ever after. However, because Season 2 is coming, we know they won’t or won’t do it yet. (“Fuck. Here we go,” Deborah tells Ava as they hit the road on the private jet at the end of the season finale. I can’t say whether this was a deliberate gesture to Bette Davis that often Quoted “Fast your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy night from “All About Eve,” another work about artists young and old in the early and late stages of a career, But that bumps ahead have just been set up.)
They’re not about to fall in bed with each other—though Ava has a dream that they do—but the series is thoroughly invested in the tropes and beats of the situation and romantic comedy. That lie that comes back after a bite, that open gift that finally opens, sets a course of action, a party, the unexpected appearance of a partner, in the next-to-last scene—it’s textbook material. Indeed, one of the strengths of “Hacks” is that it puts the story of clash of cultures in an old-fashioned frame. It feels fresh and familiar. Like most other arts, comedy proceeds by denying the older generation, which it also respects. The show’s creators, Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky, who have “Broad City” in common, are in their mid-to-late 30s, looking at Ava’s age with pleasant pity and understanding Enough that history does not end with one’s generation and there is no substitute for experience.