When s premiered on HBO Max last summer, in the middle of the pandemic, it felt like a perfectly timed comedic treat for the moment. The deliciously vicious series follows legendary comedienne Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), who has lost her residency on the Las Vegas strip and is forced to collaborate with the recently canceled millennial writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) in order to spice up her act; the riveting clash of personalities that ensues offered just the right balance of escapism and subversive humor. Clearly, the critics thought so too: Debuting to effusive reviews, the show went on to pick up three Emmys and the Golden Globe for best television series, musical or comedy.
“No pressure, right?” Einbinder says, laughing, of the show’s return earlier this month for a second season. To keep the laughs rolling, this time the odd couple heads out on the road to try out Deborah’s new material, with a range of brilliantly unexpected set pieces and supporting performances along the way—from Laurie Metcalf’s hilariously brusque roadie named Weed who runs their tour bus like the navy to the scene-stealing return of Meg Stalter as the chaotic, catastrophic Gen Z assistant to Deborah and Ava’s agent. (A particularly hysterical highlight comes in the fourth episode, when the Joan Rivers–esque Deborah gets booked on a gay cruise and is excited to finally have a receptive audience for her old-school-diva brand of comedy—only to find out upon arrival that it is exclusively for lesbians, who she is adamant “aren’t her crowd.” After her comedy set goes south, Deborah flees on a lifeboat.)
But the show’s second season is leavened with some more profound questions too, as the central relationship between Deborah and Ava faces some major bumps in the road. Viewers of the first season will remember it closing on the tense question of whether Deborah would discover an excoriating email Ava wrote about her in a fit of rage, something that emerges not just as a key source of conflict between the two this time around but also leads to a devastating scene in which Ava is forced to read the message to Deborah aloud. It’s proof positive (if you needed it) that Hacks is more than just a bold generational comedy, instead unpicking deeper emotional truths about the sexism and ageism that women working in the entertainment industry are faced with to this day.