Binge-worthy: Hacks a comedy about comedians which tickles

Hacks starring Jean Smart.
Hacks starring Jean Smart. PHOTO: HBO GO

HACKS

HBO Go
4 stars

In Hacks, veteran American actress Jean Smart turns in a winning performance as a stand-up comedy star forced to work with a young writer.

Here are three reasons to catch it.

1. Funny show about comedians

The problem with stories set in the world of comedy is that the fictional up-and-coming comics are usually not that funny.

But Hacks, which won this year's Emmys for best comedic writing and direction, sidesteps the issue by having for its protagonist an established star whose brilliance, at least in the past, is more or less a given.

Played by Best Actress winner Jean Smart, comedy legend Deborah Vance has done more Las Vegas shows than anyone.

But when the casino she performs at tries to cut down on her performances, a young comedy writer, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), is hired to freshen up her act.

Ava is a self-absorbed millennial who loses a plum gig after an ill-judged tweet. Deborah is a diva used to getting her way and a once-great talent who is now phoning it in with the same old jokes.

What results is not just a generational clash, but also the collision of two hilariously different cultural sensibilities, and this is where the real laughs are.

2. Odd-couple chemistry

The prickly chemistry between the two is far more entertaining than any of the jokes they come up with.

Their wary rapprochement is like watching two hedgehogs mate - awful, exciting and heart-warming at the same time.

And the gulf between them illustrates how comedy and culture as a whole have evolved in the last five decades, for better or for worse.

3. Long-overdue star vehicle

Four-time Emmy winner Smart has been a scene-stealing supporting player in one acclaimed show after another, from comedy Frasier (1993 to 2004) to superhero drama Watchmen (2019) to crime drama Mare Of Easttown (2021).

But this is the long-overdue star vehicle she deserves - a character by turns wily and vulnerable; wounded and indefatigable; a stubborn old softie.

Her dysfunctional relationships with everyone from Ava to her daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson) each reveals a different facet of her, and the actress portrays them all with uncommon precision, empathy and grace.

Some of the other characters are a little grating and pointless, but Smart is the one you will be glued to.