Jean Smart as Deborah Vance in Hacks, a show I very much enjoy! | Hacks/HBO Max

Maybe Deborah Vance is built different.

Hacks is a show about comedy, but its best bits aren’t funny at all.

Its stellar first season is both an introduction to and canny portrait of Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), an aging Vegas headliner maneuvering the terms of her employment while simultaneously reflecting on her fears of obsolescence and her ambition to be loved. All of Deborah’s desires and fears overlap, bleeding through any possible personal and professional boundaries. Somehow, this force of nature finds clarity in an annoying bisexual millennial named Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a comedy writer who is allegedly somewhat amusing on Twitter.

The wake-up call Ava brings isn’t pleasant. Ava thinks Deborah is on cruise control, playing it safe with her comedy because Vegas crowds don’t care to be dared. Ava’s right and Deborah knows it, but acknowledging that is humiliating. It’s embarrassing not just because Ava is entitled and insufferable and admitting she’s correct would only exacerbate those qualities, but because it also means that Deborah Vance has lost touch of who she is.

For Ava, writing for Deborah is humbling in its own way. She’s alienating to others and she hasn’t made her own name; she doesn’t have any other options.

Deborah and Ava’s symbiotic relationship, the weird bits and volatile moments especially, bring each one closer to a better sense of who they are — a gift, especially in the lonely landscape that is comedy.

Hacks/HBO Max Deborah and Ava take a road trip in season two of Hacks.

The fantastic second season builds on that initial chapter. Hacks hits the ground running, with Deborah and Ava flying back from Ava’s father’s funeral in preparation for Deborah’s North American tour. Having bombed her final performance at the Palmetto, her residency on the Strip, Deborah knows her...

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