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'Hacks' Stars on Taking Deborah and Ava (But Not the Corgis) on the Road in Season 2

'I think the audience would be very disappointed if we didn't butt heads like we did last year,' Jean Smart tells Metacritic.
by Danielle Turchiano — 
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From left to right: Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder in 'Hacks'

HBO Max

At the end of the first season of Hacks, after a particularly nasty fight with Deborah (Jean Smart), Ava (Hannah Einbinder) fired off a scathing and revealing email detailing her comedian boss' shortcomings to writers she barely knows but who are working on a show about such a public personality. She regretted it, but she couldn't take it back, and then she had to spend the length of a plane ride sitting beside Deborah, stewing and worrying about the repercussions.

And though it doesn't happen immediately at the start of Season 2, as Ava does what she can in damage control mode first, she will eventually have to face up to her actions — and therefore face whatever vengeance Deborah decides to throw her way. Because Ava isn't walking away from the gig, no matter what.

"Ava wrote that email when she was blacked out on alcohol and pills, so it was a weak moment, and it's not what she actually feels about Deborah. She [actually] loves her," Einbinder tells Metacritic. "And so, I think she stays because this is her world and Deborah is her mentor, friend, et cetera. They have this serious relationship, and Ava doesn't want to give it up because of a mistake she didn't mean."

Ava starts Season 2 with this secret hanging over her relationship with Deborah, which adds tension to an increasingly complex relationship as the two hit the road so Deborah can workshop a new show in clubs around the country (and on a cruise ship).

They're not alone on the bus, as Deborah's assistant Damien (Mark Indelicato), who notably doesn't like comedy, is along for the ride, and they hire a tour manager (played by Laurie Metcalf), too. But the confined space will still inspire shifts in their relationship.

Here, Smart and Einbinder talk to Metacritic about what to expect from their characters, their relationship, and the comedy world of small-town clubs (as opposed to the Vegas stage) in Season 2 of Hacks.

How do the close quarters of the tour bus affect Deborah and Ava's relationship? Are the ways they butt heads just exacerbated, or are there opportunities to actually see them getting closer?

Jean Smart: I think Deborah has made a little bit of personal progress in that she admits to [Ava] that she thinks she's a good writer. She feels [Ava] will be helpful to her and that she needs to be a little bit more open about certain things. She needs to trust somebody — she doesn't trust anybody — but she needs to trust somebody a little bit to make this new phase of her life work because she's not about to retire or go quietly. 

But of course — and thank god — we get on each other's nerves, too, because we're traveling together. I think the audience would be very disappointed if we didn't butt heads like we did last year. So, being on a road trip has given us a lot of fodder for humor between the rest stops, the Grand Canyon, the cowboy bars, the mechanical bull — things like that.

Hannah Einbinder: I would say being in close quarters is good for comedy, especially based on the way that they work. We get a lot of time to work out the material. When you're on the road, it really is all work. Deborah's on stage, she comes off, they go to sleep, they listen back [and] go through the whole set — they're going through what worked and what didn't and making changes. All of the day is dedicated to that, and then she goes back on stage, and it's cyclical. So, it helps the process and it helps her material, so it is conducive to comedy in that way. 

Definitely, personally, there are moments where they butt heads. But also, when you're living with somebody like that, it's so intimate, and they get closer, they get more like roommates. You completely release in front of a roommate, so it's like that.

Does getting closer to Ava bring up anything when it comes to her daughter, DJ (Kaitlin Olson)? How do you view that relationship, or how Deborah is reflecting on that relationship, this season?

J.S.: Even though her daughter is older than [Ava] it's still a mother-daughter dynamic, and she has so many regrets about her relationship with her daughter, and she's already building regrets with her relationship with Ava because she's kind of abusive to her. I think she thinks about that a lot. I think she probably is closer to Ava than she is to DJ, which I'm sure she feels a little guilty about. And certainly being in those dive bars and clubs she's working, all of those memories of being there with her little girl come flooding back. And to me, the most damaging, worst emotion in the world is regret — guilt is right up there, but guilt is part of regret, so to me regret is the most frightening emotion, the most sad emotion [filled with] things you didn't say that you wish you said, things you did that you wish you hadn't done. And so, she's forced to think a lot about her daughter in all of these clubs. She just wanted her daughter there, it didn't occur to her that maybe she wasn't giving her daughter the right kind of childhood and maybe her daughter would resent her.

What do you feel like the show is saying about the state of comedy in the clubs right now, by the experiences Deborah has in them?

J.S.: Going back into these little clubs, you have people who are there eager to see you specifically or they're there because they really want to see comedy. That's different than tourists who go to Las Vegas who party and gamble and maybe will go see a show, and they're coming to see you because they've heard your name or something. They're very different audiences. Deborah knows, inherently and from experience, that she has to really be sharp and she can't just reach into her bag of tricks like she's been doing for years and years and years. And that's why she has to have Ava with her.

Hannah, how is Ava's voice continuing to be shaped by these new experiences?

H.E.: She just continually gains more respect for Deborah and where she comes from. There's this constant thing that happens in the show where Deborah laughs something off and Ava's horrified by it. Deborah's response to injustice or abuse or any of these things that exist structurally in these institutions is to be like, "Remember when that guy was taking photos up our skirts?" She and her friend are like, "He was such a creep, I'm glad he's dead," and Ava is like [wide eyes, upset]. She's just getting more of that. People respond to difficulty in different ways. Some people need to laugh at it to survive, and some people need to feel it, and we're seeing more of that dynamic — the way these women experience trouble.

And what was the discussion on set about having the corgis on the bus? Because Deborah travels with them her plane, but maybe it's unfair to bring dogs on the road like that. Then again, maybe it was unfair to bring DJ on the road as a kid, but she did that...

H.E.: I'm allergic, so...

J.S. And on top of that, they don't hit their mark all of the time. [Laughs] They're adorable, though.


Hacks is

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Get to know Jean Smart:
The Emmy-winning Smart has acting credits dating back to the late 1970s, including appearances on The Facts of Life, Alice, and Remington Steele, in addition to starring on Designing Women (Metascore: 61) in the late '80s. But some of her highest-rated titles include HBO limited series Watchmen (85) and Mare of Easttown (81), as well as stints on 24 (79), Legion (82), and Fargo (85). Currently, she also voices Depression Kitty on Big Mouth (86).

Get to know Hannah Einbinder:
Hacks is Einbinder's first big show, although the Emmy-nominated comedian has acted also in How to Be Broke and North Hollywood.