We desperately needed Jean Smart’s glorious return in ‘Hacks’

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I have learned that few images bring more joy than that of Jean Smart in a glamorous leopard print caftan floating through the Nevada desert.

Chop Premiered last year like a ray of light penetrating through storm clouds. The world is feeling pretty awful right now. It felt pretty awful back then too! What’s more fun than years of static misery? What a time to be alive!

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But if things don’t really seem to have changed, apart from the details of what exactly makes the act of being so particularly oppressive at a given moment, at least that hasn’t changed either. If the simple pleasures we get, the fleeting distractions that uplift, are fun to watch on TV, then then Chop Still the serotonin kick, the satiating fuel for joy-dry souls, that’s it.

In the HBO Max series, Smart stars as Deborah Vance, a late-career breakout stand-up comedian who is forced out of her popular Las Vegas residence due to younger blood. She is bossy and intimidating, regal and brash, and undeniably strong with a vulnerable streak. Smart created a character along the lines of Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, whose bawdy one-liners, obvious ego, and sparkling star quality made the fictional Deborah Vance an instant icon; Gays started wearing Deborah Vance merch with her face on it like it was a rock concert t-shirt.

The tension at the heart of the series was that Deborah was forced to work with a young comedy writer who had traveled with career baggage herself in order to remain relevant enough to keep her place in Vegas. Hannah Einbinder’s Ava, a moody, resentful millennial, was Deborah’s slide-shot-strange couple Familiar. Cleverly and subtly, the series deepened throughout the season, examining how their respective traumas bound them together despite generational differences and their collective stubbornness.

That’s what made the show great, and its Emmy Awards speak for it. But it’s the kind of one-off achievement from Smart that’s created not just a fandom or admiration, but an obsession. Smart Playing Deborah Vance is one of those performances that you can’t and won’t stop listening to. I apologize to everyone I’ve met over the course of Chop‘ first season because he would interrupt every conversation to blurt out an over-the-top monologue about how great Smart is doing Chop and what a powerful showcase this is after such a long career. A Starbucks barista and I once cried together while connecting over it.

The first two new episodes of Season 2 premiered this week on HBO Max. Are they as “good” as the first season? You can hardly measure yourself by that.

Judging from the episodes we’ve shown, the new season lacks the narrowness and direction of the veteran legend making an unlikely comeback and grappling with what her life would mean without her career. But it makes up for that by embracing what it means when a series so tied to a completed storyline loses that foundation. Season 2 of Chop says a hearty “Yes, and…” to the chaos.

After a moving finale in which Deborah surprises Ava at her father’s funeral and not only hosts the service but invites Ava to tour with her, a wrench is thrown in their way to happily ever after be.

As a testament to how brutally real this show has gotten about stand-up comedy, Deborah hits Ava near the end of season one. Ava gives up and, drunk and high fit, emails Hollywood producers she previously interviewed for a job to uncover all of Deborah’s worst behaviors and personality traits, giving them permission to broadcast the details in a series about a Shrew of a powerful woman who abuses those who work for her.

“Deborah isn’t acting the way you’d expect when she inevitably finds out, and it’s great material for Smart’s delicate drama skills and roaring penchant for vengeful comedy.”

The reunion at Ava’s father’s funeral was supposed to be a Kumbaya moment, but the audience knows the other shoe will fall. In Season 2, it takes a moment for that to happen and it falls like an anvil. However, no comic anvil. It’s a deserved, emotional scene. It’s also the catalyst for the chaos of the season.

Deborah isn’t acting the way you’d expect when she inevitably finds out, and it’s great material for Smart’s delicate drama skills and roaring penchant for vengeful comedy. It all unfolds as the main idea for Season 2 morphs into a road trip comedy. We were going to say road trip “buddy” comedy, but that’s not entirely accurate for what unfolds between Deborah and Ava.

There are things about the new season that don’t work in a confusing way. The supporting characters of Jimmy the agent (played by Paul W. Downs) and Kayla, his hilariously incompetent assistant (Meg Stalter), are given more screentime and their own plots outside of the Deborah drama. It turns out some things are better in small doses. Also, it’s theoretically nice to be able to spend more time with Carl Clemons-Hopkins’ managerial character – it’s a very likable role played by a very likable actor. But you can’t shake the feeling that these threads distract from the main show.

Jean Smart a Chop Season 2.

HBO Max

This spectacle is Jean Smart as Deborah Vance on a lavish tour bus that cruises through the Midwest’s finest B- and C-tier cities. As a candy, Laurie Metcalf joins the series as the tour manager of Deborah, a woman who takes her job damn seriously. I strongly believe that Laurie Metcalf will join Chop is the gift from the universe we are all entitled to after what we have endured over the past few years, and Metcalf does not disappoint. Moron. She is Laurie Metcalf.

Mark Indelicato also joins the tour as Deborah’s assistant, adding an intriguing new dynamic. These are characters whose messy lives are forgiven, and perhaps even implicitly encouraged, because it’s all fodder for that all-important, unassailable art form: comedy. He pops the balloon.

“I don’t like comedy,” he says at one point. “Everyone is trying too hard. It’s so awkward.”

It’s never good for a show to write its own indictment, but here we are. But we’re also here with Laurie Metcalf. On a bus. With Jean Smart. Sophistication may be had, but all is forgiven.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/we-desperately-needed-the-glorious-return-of-jean-smart-in-hacks?source=articles&via=rss We desperately needed Jean Smart’s glorious return in ‘Hacks’

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