hacks, written by Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs, is not a time travel story. It’s a comedy-drama about two pathologically isolated women – 70-year-old rich and famous stand-up girl Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and broke, barely-known television writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) – whose the bumpy kinship helps them evolve as people. They start out being selfish, self-centered and see relationships with others only in terms of transaction. Ava has no friends and uses people in her endless “hustle” to get new gigs and career opportunities. Deborah has no friends (but, after a decades-long career in show business, plenty of enemies), and everyone in his life gets paid to be there. Even Deborah’s daughter, DJ (Kaitlin Olson), sells paparazzi photos of her mother to make rent, which Deborah is secretly colluding with to maintain DJ’s illusion of financial independence. Deborah’s money is her armor.
Deborah’s other armor is the quality that made her fortune in the first place – her mind. It’s a famously acerbic stand-up, teardown comic with an aging audience that loves its wasp one-liners. Or as Ava says in this car accident job interview: a hack.
Deborah’s comedy is tired and outdated at the start of hacks because she refuses to work with a writing partner. She’s decidedly self-sufficient, which we understand early on when we watch her change a heavy soda fountain gas canister in the kitchen of her multimillion-dollar Las Vegas mansion. Deborah isn’t just any millionaire diva, this canister tells us, she’s compulsively self-sufficient. She’s not a hopeless, hopeless case (apologies to Ava for the mentally capable insult) but a shrewd businesswoman who goes by her own receipts and trusts no one. And no wonder. Everyone Deborah has trusted in the past has betrayed her. Historically, her business manager stole her money and her sister stole her husband. Why wouldn’t she change her own gas canister?
Ava’s autonomy was learned not from betrayal but from loneliness. Unlike Deborah, she was an only child who drew faces on her pillows to have someone to talk to. Ava grew up as a Queer progressive in small-town Massachusetts where her status as a dysfunctional underdog drew her to the Los Angeles comedy scene. There, instead of being reunited with her tribe, she remained a dysfunctional outsider. She hasn’t made any friends and we meet her after being dumped by his girlfriend, actress Ruby (Lorenza Izzo) and ostracized for making an insensitive joke on Twitter. She’s boring, guilt-inducing, and barely controlling herself.
But like Deborah, what Ava has going for her is spirit. By working for Deborah and gradually closing the distance between their distant positions on everything in life (Deborah’s old school, Ava woke up; Deborah is disciplined, Ava is chaotic; Deborah’s work is cynical and safe, Ava has an idealistic youthful belief in honesty and risk…) they make each other better. They thaw, learn and rub against each other (not literally, despite the sex dream Ava has about Deborah at the start of her crush on this woman who expects more from her than anyone else ). If that sounds cutesy, it’s not. It’s insightful.
By the end of season two, Deborah and Ava have grown so much together that the only possible decision for their new partnership is separation. It’s not what viewers want, it’s not what Ava wants, but it’s what Deborah knows has to happen. It was Ava who taught her that there is a trap to being comfortable and that risks can be worth taking and so, perhaps in her first selfless act in decades, Deborah fires Ava for the well of Ava. It’s time for his naughty and funny Bambi-girl-me to learn how to use his wonky legs on the ice in Los Angeles.