Hacks creator on Jean Smart’s brilliance in her Emmy-winning role

5 November 2021

Hacks creator on Jean Smart’s brilliance in her Emmy-winning role

The #2 show on Rotten Tomatoes’ Best TV of 2021 (So Far), HBO’s comedy-drama Hacks recently earned the incomparable Jean Smart her fourth Emmy – this time for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – for her role as legendary Las Vegas comedian Deborah Vance, who takes on an entitled, down-on-her-luck Gen Z comedy writer, Ava, in a bid to find fresh material and remain relevant as her performance dates start to dwindle. Watch Hacks online now, with all episodes streaming on Showmax.

Already renewed for a second season, Hacks has a 100% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. As San Francisco Chronicle says, “This show makes a rich contribution to the buddy comedy tradition, never superficial or skin deep and always very, very funny.” But, they say, “For all its gut-punch humor, Hacks is dead serious about how show business treats women. You might be laughing too hard to hear it, but there’s a low frequency scream running just beneath the comedy.”

Hacks was up for 15 Emmys altogether this year, including Outstanding Comedy Series, with co-creator Luca Aniello winning Outstanding Director and sharing the Writing Emmy with Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky. This is only the fifth time a woman has won the Comedy: Directing category at the Emmys. 

Newcomer Hannah Einbinder and Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Candyman) were both nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress/Actor categories as Ava and Marcus respectively, while Golden Globe nominee Jane Adams (Hung, Happiness, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress.

Jean first made her mark on the small screen in the 80s, with her memorable role as Charlene in the sitcom Designing Women, in which she starred from 1986 to 1991. It was also where she met actor Richard Gilliland, who would become her husband.

The actress’ now almost four-decades-long career has already delivered two Emmy wins for Frasier (in 2000 and 2001) and one for Samantha Who? (in 2008). In recent years, she’s been nominated multiple times in the Best Supporting Actress: Limited Series category – this year for her role as Helen in the Kate Winslet series Mare of Easttown. She was nominated in the same category last year for Watchmen, and in 2016 for Season 2 of Fargo, both of which earned her wins at the Critics’ Choice Awards. She was also nominated twice for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, for the hit series 24.

In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, series co-creator Paul W. Downs says, to him, what’s being called the Smartaissance (aka the Jeanaissance) “seems insane… For me, Jean Smart has always been the highlight of whatever she’s in.”

But, he says, the underappreciation of women in the arts is nothing new, and in fact forms a central theme of the show. “This idea that the arts, comedy among them, are historically less welcoming to those not born white and male, is a central theme of Hacks. Nearly six years ago, my co-creators [and fellow Broad City writers] Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky and I were discussing the many incredible female comedians who never got their due in the way their male contemporaries did. And out of that discussion, Hacks was born — a show about two women of different generations both cast aside and relegated to the Las Vegas desert. We wanted to explore how society so easily dismisses women while celebrating mediocre white men. (Full disclosure: I myself am a mediocre white man.)”

In a recent interview with Celeb News VT about her Emmy win and the broader Smartaissance, the 70-year-old said – as only Jean would – “It’s all very flattering. [But] it makes me a little nervous. I feel like I have nowhere to go but down.”

While we’re unlikely to ever have Ava’s gumption in taking on Deborah Vance, we do have to respectfully disagree with Jean on this one. Legendary as she already is, we have a feeling she’s just getting warmed up.

Latest stories

Never miss a beat

  • Video not found
    Video not found
    Video not found