The formula: comedy about comedy.
The problem: comedy isn’t funny.
But that’s okay, because a show doesn’t have to be L-O-L funny to be enjoyable, and Hacks is enjoyable enough, if not quite on a par with the period comedy about comedy The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, in which people are dressed better, at least.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the great and the good have started tweeting about Hacks and how much they’re enjoying it. It has a lot going for it: a female-led cast, and women allowed to be complicated without being cartoon villains. Such things are not to be sniffed at. The short episode length is also a boon: this is one of the main reasons I quite enjoyed Parallèles. There has been too a lot of praise for Jean Smart in the lead role as Deborah Vance, a veteran comedian who has outlasted her way to a lucrative Las Vegas residency; and for Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels, a cancelled comedy writer hired to write her some new material.
But of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start disliking the show more every time I see somebody else praising it.
It’s okay, but notwithstanding the shorter episodes, there’s still a bit of a dip in the middle, during which the show seems to be treading (rationed) water in preparation for the big finish. There are moments when Vance’s quips are quite funny, but my biggest problem is that the Daniels character isn’t remotely funny. I’ve been led to believe that comedy writers’ rooms are pressure cookers of excellence, with jokes coming thick and fast for the laugh-a-minute likes of Seinfeld and The Good Place or Brooklyn 99. And she’s supposed to come from such a pressure cooker, so where are the jokes?
The premise is that Daniels has been cancelled for an off-colour joke on Twitter. Believable, except the joke wasn’t funny, nor particularly off-colour. Couldn’t this particular writers’ room come up with something at least a little outrageous? And while I’ve also been raised on the sad clown trope, even when she’s supposedly working, she doesn’t ever come up with anything funny. And the show itself knows this, because it shies away from showing us Vance performing very much of this new material.
Fine, fine, it’s a character-led “comedy” drama, but there’s a problem, I think, because there’s plenty of Vance being funny—before Daniels comes to work with her. But virtually nothing of this new writing partnership. So we’re left with a strong impression of a comedy legend who has been killing it for 50 years, but almost nothing to warrant the continued employment of this down-on-her-luck comedy writer. If she’s so brilliant, why isn’t she brilliant?
Anyway, it’s all right. I mean, when there’s nothing much else on. And once you’ve burned through new episode Friday, there’s nothing much else on.
I can’t leave without adding the obvious: every media personality praising Hacks has probably not paid £4.99 for a month of Starzplay in order to watch Station Eleven and Counterpart. Fucksake.