The Daily Stream: 'Hacks' Is A Worthy Entry In The Jean Smart-Issance

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Show: Hacks

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Against her better judgment, legendary Las Vegas stand-up Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) hires Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a down-and-out twenty-something writer who was recently fired over a controversial tweet. Hacks is a character piece that focuses on their clashing personalities, their conflicting approach to comedy, and how, if they can find it within themselves to listen and have an open mind, they might just make each other better.

Why It's Essential Viewing: The obvious thing to say here would be, "Jean Smart is spectacular on this show, so that's why you should watch it!" And that's true. But Hacks is a two-hander, and I think Hannah Einbinder also deserves a lot of praise for carrying the other half of this series with her enormous hands. (That's a joke that viewers of this show will understand, and not me making fun of a performer's appearance.)

One of my favorite things is watching people who I consider to be undervalued thrive. When someone has been sitting on the sidelines for years, but you're confident they're capable of great things, and then they knock it out of the park when they finally get a long-deserved opportunity? That's the good stuff right there. It's admittedly a little weird to feel an odd sense of pride for someone you've never met, but that doesn't dampen my excitement on the rare occasions that it happens. The cool thing about Jean Smart is that she has taken one of those opportunities and parlayed it into an incredible run over the past several years. She's been absolutely killing it since playing a menacing matriarch on Fargo in 2015, popping up in Legion, Watchmen, and Mare of Easttown to rapturous acclaim, but Hacks is arguably one of the best projects of her entire career, and she makes a meal of it in the best way.

Despite its premise, this isn't so much a show about comedy as it is a show about being seen. Deborah literally wants to be seen working on the stage that her casino CEO (Christopher McDonald) is trying to take away from her; Ava wants to be seen as a legitimate writer; Deborah's COO Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) wants Deborah to see the work he's done to help her career; the list goes on. It's a drama about comedy that has some funny moments – don't go in expecting a laugh riot. But the show's central relationship, between Deborah and Ava, is what really hooks you. It's far more than just a Devil Wears Prada scenario, or a string of easy jokes about "older people think this, while Gen Z thinks this." It's the type of complicated, messy, sometimes-awful-sometimes-heartwarming human relationship that's rare to see on television these days.