Hacks Season 2 shows glimmers of Deborah Vance’s compassion

By Bianca Coleman28 November 2022

Hacks Season 2 shows glimmers of Deborah Vance’s compassion

Jean Smart, who plays Deborah Vance in Hacks, has the usual artist Wikipedia page; she also has an entire separate page exclusively for all the awards she has won or been nominated for during her career – including several top shelf statuettes for Hacks. You should also know the dark comedy series has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Deborah is a giant in the world of standup comedy, or at least she has been for most of her years on stage. In Season 1, she’s fading somewhat, her popularity is waning, and her residency at the Palmetto in Las Vegas is in jeopardy. Her agent Jimmy (Paul W Downs) sends Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) to help her write fresh new material that will hopefully keep her relevant. The series revolves mainly around the relationship between Deborah and Ava, with satellite stories for the supporting cast that are tragic and funny, often at the same time.

At the end of Season 1, Deborah and Ava have a massive fight, Ava quits (“obviously”), and retaliates against Deborah by emailing the producers of a TV show to dish the dirt on Deborah.

When Season 2 opens, Ava is sober and filled with remorse, and justifiably terrified Deborah will find out. “Stay away from her,” advises Jimmy, but Deborah decides there’s no time like the present to go on a road trip. With Ava. Despite Jimmy’s best efforts to get the producers to drop the sensitive information, Ava is gripped by a sudden rush of morality after they visit Deborah’s psychic, who tells her she is an honest person, and confesses to Deborah. And here we go, for eight episodes of increasing complications.

After screaming and throwing crystals at Ava, Deborah calmly decides she will sue Ava for everything she has (which is not much) but she will not cut her loose as they embark on a tour across the US, dropping in at comedy clubs and state fairs.

Ava, of course, is punished, with the smallest bunk on the bus and various petty gestures. However, it seems the hard truths Ava revealed in her email have an effect on Deborah and her often appalling behaviour, and this season shows us it has an effect on her and how she treats people. But this is Hacks, and Deborah just can’t help being her cutting, mean self – as we see in these crucial, cruel, darkly funny moments.

Pep talk

In episode 1, her daughter DJ’s (Kaitlin Olson) MMA fighter husband is in his first big cage fight and it’s not looking good. Deborah shoves everyone out the way and gives him a pep talk. Except it’s more about herself.

Kaitlin Olson as DJ, and Jean Smart as Deborah Vance in Hacks Season 2

Dumpster diving

Ava’s mom sends her her dad’s ashes in a tennis ball container. The tour bus manager throws them out somewhere along the way. In the face of Ava’s hysteria, Deborah gives the order to turn around, and even pitches in with the dumpster diving to retrieve the ashes. Ava decides, since her father didn’t get to travel, she will scatter him in the different states they drive through.

The scene: early morning, Grand Canyon, emotional moment. Deborah puts her hand on Ava’s shoulder, pats it gently, and says “You know, it’s probably good he didn’t live to see me take you for everything you’re worth.”

Jean Smart as Deborah and Hannah Einbinder as Ava

The bruise cruise

The gays are Deborah’s people. She’s booked on a gay cruise, but it turns out it’s lesbians – not her target audience. Ava and Deborah bond quite closely, and it seems like she’s winning them over. Until she’s not. Because she simply can’t help herself. Her show ends really, really badly in a barrage of insults and shoes being thrown.

A former friend

In a small town mall, Deborah buys Ava clothes (the dress will make an appearance later) and bumps into an old comedy friend, a friend she sabotaged when they were starting out. At the state fair, Deborah competes in a game to beat the friend’s grandkids, and there is a fleeing moment when she appears to experience guilt.

It’s enough to get her to talk to her friend, but things didn’t happen the way she thought. The truth perhaps is even sadder, recalling the sacrifices Deborah made for her career. Back at the hotel, she grows introspective and thoughtful with Ava, and does another good, touching, deed for her.

Jean Smart as Deborah and Hannah Einbinder as Ava

One more asset

The court case still isn’t going anywhere and the lawyer Ava talks to tells her it’s worse than she thinks. It’s a cruel sport for Deborah; she doesn’t need the money. But when Ava gets a side gig, Deborah tells her to take it, even though it will clash with a big show she is doing.

Ava, who, despite everything, riddled with insecurities and suffering a dose of Stockholm Syndrome, is besotted with Deborah, and tells her she has got an apartment close by. “Oh great,” says Deborah. “I’ll tell my lawyers … one more asset for them to go after.”

Devastating Ava

During this reflective journey, Deborah has turned her gaze inward and found new material that is real and heartfelt, and above all else, is resonating with her audience. Success follows, and she publicly acknowledges Ava and her contribution. But then she does the unexpected. Twice, leaving Ava devastated. No spoilers here, but it’s not over. Hacks, which The Guardian calls “the most vile – and pleasurable – comedy on TV”, has been renewed for a third season.

Hannah Einbinder as Ava and Jean Smart as Deborah

See a very different side of Jean Smart in The Mare Of Easttown, for which she also won an Emmy in 2021. For another comedy about, well, comedy, watch Crashing.

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