‘Hacks’ season 2 premiere review: The shrewd stand-up comedy series kills it again

Jean Smart as Deborah and Hannah Einbinder as Ava in Hacks

Photograph by Karen Ballard/HBO Max

One of the most powerful scenes in Hacks Season 2 is when Deborah (Jean Smart) confronts Ava (Hannah Einbinder) about an email she sent to two Hollywood writers in the Season 1 finale. During the scene, the angry comic forces her writer’s assistant to read the email out loud while they sit inside a janky diner in Sedona, Arizona. This scene, which is both heartbreaking and funny, includes several hilarious lines such as, “She once asked me to perjure myself for her in traffic court.” Interestingly, the scene begins to pivot into darker territory when Ava’s comments about Deborah become more personal, like when she says everyone in her boss’s life is on her payroll. 

This three-minute monologue is impactful because it calls out Deborah for all the horrible things she’s said and done. Like her real-life contemporaries Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle, Deborah sees herself as a victim—even when she is the one in the wrong. Of course, Ava should not have sent that email to the writers, but Deborah’s treatment of her assistant drove the woman over the edge.

This scene is just one of many that proves Hacks’ critical acclaim is not a fluke. Once again, creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky kill it with this HBO Max series. The comedy’s commitment to exploring what makes horrible women tick, the cast’s terrific performances, and its willingness to take the dynamic duo outside their comfort zone make Season 2 a delightful viewing experience.

Season 1 ends with Deborah blowing up her Las Vegas residency at the Palmetto Casino and Ava drunkenly calling two Hollywood writers about her experiences with Deborah. In Season 2, the comedian and her writing assistant are learning to evolve as they reckon with the consequences of their actions. Together, they hit the road as they workshop Deborah’s new material for her stand-up comedy act. Unfortunately for the two women, they must overcome several speed bumps as they prove their worth to the world.

Hacks continues to dissect what makes privileged and entitled white women tick with aplomb. Though Deborah and Ava are becoming better human beings, the two women still have a lot of growing up to do. In Season 2, Deborah, bless her precious boomer soul, tries to turn a new leaf by supporting her messy daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson) and building a friendly rapport with Ava. However, when someone does something that Deborah disapproves of, the comic reverts to her petty old ways.

For example, when Ava and Deborah visit a crystal gift shop in Sedona, the young woman reveals to her boss the email she sent to the Hollywood writers. Rightfully angry and hurt, Deborah retaliates by violently throwing rocks at her assistant. Not only does this scene show there are consequences to Ava’s actions, but it also displays how much Deborah refuses to change for her employee.


Smart nails her performance as the legendary comic in Hacks Season 2. The veteran actor plays the character like she is the Miranda Priestly of the comedy world. Like Meryl Streep and other dames before her, Smart’s quips with Einbinder are ridiculously mean, biting, and hilarious. The performer showcases her skills wonderfully when Ava tries to convince Deborah of the scientific benefits of taking mushrooms in Episode 1. As Deborah listens to her assistant drone on and on about pharmaceuticals, she mockingly remarks in true Miranda fashion, “You know, I’ve never said this to anyone in my life, but I think you need to read less.”

Although Smart radiates in every scene, Einbinder also comes into her own as Ava. She does a much better job with her performance than in the previous season, as her banter and delivery with the other castmates are more natural and authentic. Einbinder depicts this when Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) bluntly asks Ava over the phone if she is alone in Episode 1. Without missing a beat, Ava responds, “Yeah, I’m hiding out in Deborah’s Christmas room. Somehow it feels racist in here, but I can’t explain why.” This hilarious exchange between the manager and his client is notable since it shows Einbinder’s comedic timing and growth as an actor.


The creators also reinvigorate the series by taking the comic and her mentee outside Sin City. Instead of sticking it out in Las Vegas, the two women hit the road as they visit various dusty destinations like Flagstaff and Sedona. These scenes work because it puts the women in new and exciting environments. Take, for example, Deborah—she becomes a brand-new person when she drops in at a comedy club called The Main. During her set, she gets the crowd roaring as she jokes about her sister sleeping with her husband while dropping the brutal punch line, “Betrayal is the worst feeling in the world. And I’ve woken up during a colonoscopy.”

The only disappointing thing about the first two episodes of Season 2 is that it does not give the viewers enough Carl Clemons-Hopkins. His blossoming (and doomed) queer relationship with water maintenance cop Wilson (Johnny Sibilly) is one of the biggest highlights of Season 1. So, it is a little disheartening to see the first two episodes of the new season barely give the actor any screen time. We only get to see him when he works with his boss Deborah as they iron out the details of her road tour and when he brings his ex-boyfriend’s things back to his apartment. Hopefully, the series will give Marcus more screen time in the following episodes.

Fortunately for Hacks, the comedy does give some of the other supporting cast members more to do. Notably, Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame takes her role as Deborah’s daughter DJ from messy recovering drug addict to caring but obtuse wife. Though the character still lacks awareness in some areas—she equates her marriage to a UFC fighter to the likes of a military wife—the woman becomes much more open and honest with her mother.

One moment that fully encapsulates the character’s growth is when Deborah finds her grown daughter eating a chicken pot pie in her backyard in Episode 1. In this scene, DJ tells her mother that she is hiding from her dopey midwestern husband Aidan because they are struggling to conceive. This scene works as it shows how much DJ wants to repair her fraught relationship with her mother, even though Deborah still does not approve of her daughter’s marriage.


The first two episodes of Hacks prove the creators know what they are doing with their series. The 30-minute comedy may not be as surreal as Atlanta or as hilariously dark as Barry, however, its nuanced take on terrible women, winning performances, and ingenious idea to put its leads in a new environment makes this a grand return for Hacks.

Hacks Season 2 releases two new episodes every Thursday on HBO Max .


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