‘Hacks’: A Comedic Generational Divide Gets Bridged, (Jean) Smartly

There’s a make-or-break moment in the pilot that establishes that balance, that confidence and that generosity all at once: Ava at her Vegas home.

There’s an edge to her comedy, sure, but its not one so sharp that it threatens to cut any of the thousands of tourists that show up to see her shows between hitting the nickel slots.

Birthed and fueled by social media, she sees traditional punchlines as a marker of hackdom; they are things to be fled, in favor of, say, “a 25-tweet thread from the perspective of my Lexapro.” She’s also got a set of hackles that get dependably raised by Deborah’s coarser, less enlightened jokes.

The show is teetering on knife-edge, in this scene.

But the scenes? The actual sketches? Upon which the conceit of the series entirely depended? Were so woefully, painfully unfunny they represented a serial assault on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, from which the show could never recover.

Because that’s when Deborah rolls her eyes at Ava, and tells her exactly what we the audience is thinking: “It’s just not funny,” she says.

That they will both grudgingly come to acknowledge and validate each other’s comedic sensibilities is a foregone conclusion, given the series’ odd-couple setup; the delight resides in the unforced chemistry between Smart and Einbeinder, and in how that mutual respect evolves.

Moments that could be played for unkind laughs — a Sally-Field-in-Soapdish moment when Deborah boards a Hollywood tour bus in search of validation, say — are instead played for their humanity and vulnerability.

Einbinder’s role is arguably trickier, as she’s tasked with playing someone the audience is inclined to empathize with, even as she continually evinces behavior that’s self-involved or self-destructive.

To say that Hacks is refreshingly and surprisingly generous to its two leads — and to its supporting characters, like Carl Clemons-Hopkins’ gently sardonic C.O.O.

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