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Series / Hacks

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Look at all these hacks.

An HBO series starring Jean Smart as Deborah Vance, a doyenne of the Las Vegas comedy scene with a crowd-pleasing but well-worn schtick. Hannah Einbinder plays Ava Daniels, a 25-year-old bisexual comedy writer hired to freshen up Deborah's act. The show also features Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah's COO Marcus, Kaitlin Olson as Deborah's daughter D.J., Paul W. Downs as Deborah and Ava's agent Jimmy, Megan Statler as Jimmy's assistant Kayla, and Poppy Liu as Deborah's personal blackjack dealer.


This show provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer:
    • Jimmy is horrified when Kayla seems to be flirting with him.
    • Marty has to dodge the clumsy advances of Las Vegas' mayor.
  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • Marty has had increasingly younger girlfriends throughout his life and starts the series with a 30-year-old, but he's grown tired of not being with someone he actually connects with and prefers the company of Deborah whenever he gets the chance.
    • Deborah has a one-night stand with a man 20 years her junior, which she finds extremely bizarre but enjoyable.
  • Analogy Backfire: During a rough stretch on tour, Ava suggests that Deborah follow the motto "trust the process," so as not to let every setback get her down. It sounds good until the bartender informs them that the motto comes from the Philadelphia 76ers, who choke every year and suck.
  • Anti-Villain: In the first season, Deborah is primarily motivated to counter Marty's attempts to push her out of his casino. However, Marty is a pretty nice guy, all told, and he genuinely likes Deborah. It's Nothing Personal.
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  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: A variation; Deborah discovers that one of her stalkers is at her show, but her set that night is bad enough that he just quietly returns to his car afterward instead of accosting her, to her great offense.
  • Bad Liar: Ava is a terrible liar. Deborah figures out almost instantly that she hasn't actually watched any of Ava's shows or done research in preparation for their meeting and her later attempts to lie about a doctor's appointment while taking a meeting with other writers have her ramble and add far too many details.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When Ava is abandoned in the desert and gets a nasty sunburn on her face, the next morning she looks completely normal.
  • Big Eater: Ava has a pretty large appetite and occasionally urges Deborah to splurge on large quantities of food, but Deborah is unwilling to sacrifice her figure, and to be fair, she also doesn't share Ava's 25-year-old metabolism.
  • Blackmail: Deborah tries blackmailing Marty to keep her spot in the casino, which works... for a while.
  • Blood-Spattered Innocents: Subverted : During her son-in-law's first MMA fight at the Palmetto, Deborah gets a splatter of blood in the face... and finds it exhilarating.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Deborah and Ava disagree about feminism and the purpose of comedy. The show validates both points of view.
  • Call-Back: Early in season two, a woman confronts Deborah on the faulty jean leggings she sells. At the end of the season, Deborah states on her home shopping channel that she's ensured the quality of all her products... except the jean leggings.
  • Career Versus Man: A rare case in which a man is put in this position. Marcus's boyfriend dumps him when it becomes clear Marcus will always prioritize Deborah.
  • Cliffhanger: Season One ends with Ava and Deborah going out on tour together, but with Ava horrified to remember that she drunkenly sold some of Deborah's dirty secrets.
  • Daddy's Girl: Kayla has a very loving relationship with her father, which is why Jimmy needs to be on eggshells whenever he's around her, since he's his boss.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Ava begins to see a vulnerable side of Deborah as an Odd Friendship blossoms between them.
  • Driven to Suicide: Offscreen, a guy who Ava hooks up with in Las Vegas kills himself on the next morning as he turns out to be a fugitive facing prison over his embezzlement from elderly people.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted with D.J., who appears to be a ditzy gal who rests on her mother's fame and money. When she wants to impulsively marry her boyfriend, Ava says she can't as so much in her life as "you can go back to school, get a GED." A baffled D.J. asks what she's talking about, as she went to Cornell.
  • Fake Relationship: Kayla lied that she and Jimmy were married so they could get a luxury honeymoon suite in Vegas.
  • A Family Affair: Deborah's husband left her for her sister.
  • Fanservice Extra: On the lesbian cruise, many of the lesbians are attractive young women with lots lounging around in their bikinis (as does Ava, making out with a couple).
  • Fat Idiot: Kayla is overweight and completely oblivious to how one should behave.
  • Foreshadowing: When Ava does drugs with George, they talk about acting on impulse and “just wanting to jump.” The next morning, Ava discovers that George jumped from their hotel window to his death.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The essential premise of the series is that these two female comedians from completely different backgrounds and stages in their careers initially hate each other but manage to connect and form an unlikely partnership, though not without its ups and downs.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Subverted. Deborah is indeed glamorous, and a single mother, but her adult daughter D.J. is still dependent on her and causes her grief.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Averted as Ava, one of the protagonists, offhandedly mentions her atheism. Deborah, who is the only one to hear it, just laughs at what she says (it's mentioned during a joke).
  • Homoerotic Dream: Ava has one about Deborah. Due to her being bisexual, this isn't that unusual, though Ava still feels uncomfortable because Deborah is her boss and straight.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick:
    • Marcus is Deborah's assistant and manages her life pretty much to the minute.
    • In season 2, Billy's new assistant calls an Audi mechanic because he recognises a tone heard over the phone as a sign that his car needs a repair.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Kayla mentions that she spends a lot of time traveling, then immediately says she has to take off Friday to "go to the dentist again." When Jimmy suggests she move it to Saturday, she says she can't because she already bought the ticket.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When he quits the agency, Jimmy just barely restrains himself from hitting someone with his laptop and then screams at them that he doesn't have anger issues.
  • Irrevocable Message: Ava sends a couple of these while drunk and high:
    • She sends an angry voicemail to Deborah quitting her job, though she does manage to revoke it after breaking into Deborah's phone.
    • After another falling out with Deborah, she emails the writers of a TV show and sends them all the nasty details of Deborah's life to use as material. She deeply regrets that one in the morning and unfortunately cannot get that one to go away.
  • It's All About Me: Ava's mother is remarkably self-centered without realizing it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Deborah is most definitely not the easiest person to get along with, a fact she will be the first to admit to, but she does show a softer side as time goes on and develops a mutually respectful friendship with Ava.
  • Lesbian Jock: The lesbian cruise is mentioned as having multiple Olympic athletes onboard. Ava also jokingly says her bisexuality is partly caused by the American National Women's Soccer team.
  • LOL, 69: When Deborah offers a sexist comic a huge check to stop performing comedy, she pointedly makes it "one point sixty-nine million" to mock his dopey sense of humor.
  • May–December Romance: Marty has a habit of dating women decades younger than himself. When he claims that his current girlfriend is an "old soul", Deborah even quips how lucky he is to keep finding "old souls in the bodies of twenty-six year old women".
  • Meaningful Funeral: Deborah surprises Ava by showing up at her father's funeral and basically emcees the ceremony. At the reception afterwards the two women agree to keep working with each other.
  • Milholland Relationship Moment: Deborah apologizes to Susan, an old colleague she once sabotaged at a comedy competition, and who subsequently retired from comedy. Susan assures her that she didn't quit because of losing one meaningless competition; she just saw the sacrifices Deborah was making to pursue comedy and didn't want to do the same.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: This show about a comedy writer was, shockingly, created by comedy writers Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Ava has two scenes wearing nothing but her underwear while intimate with guys, and another where while in a bikini she starts making out with a couple other women. Once she also takes a selfie of herself topless for her ex, and gets caught in the act by Deborah (though it's not explicit). She's quite a pretty redhead.
  • Nepotism:
    • Kayla is nice but The Ditz who has no idea how to be anyone's assistant. Jimmy however is stuck with her even when she violated the HR rules as she can't be fired due to her father being the boss, whom she's very close with.
    • Jimmy himself is arguably just as much a nepotism baby as Kayla (their fathers were both partners in the company, though his is deceased) but he takes his job much more seriously, especially because he's very self-conscious about being known for his father.
  • Nervous Wreck: Hannah's mother, Nina. Any conversation Hannah tries to have with her will end with Nina freaking out over the tiniest thing. In her first appearance, Nina learns that Hannah has moved to Vegas and starts freaking about how to rearrange the house for Hannah when she has to move back in with them.
  • No Bisexuals: Deborah doesn't fully get just how people can be bisexual, when discussing this with Ava (who's bi). Ava also meets two lesbians who maintain everyone's either gay or straight, though she just agrees so as not to spoil the flirting.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: While there are many inspirations for Deborah, most critics took her as a thinly veiled Joan Rivers. Like Joan, Deborah is a glamorous blonde showbiz veteran with a similar style of humor, she has a home shopping empire and she came close to being the first female star of late night until her career was destroyed by scandal.
  • Nothing Personal: Marty increasingly downgrades Deborah's presence in his casino because her market appeal is waning, which she takes personally. Marty repeatedly insists that he's personally a big fan of hers (and obviously romantically interested) but also has business responsibilities that take precedence over his personal feelings.
  • Oh, Crap!: The first season ends with Ava and Deborah reconciled...until Jimmy reminds Ava that she spilled a bunch of Deborah's secrets to some British TV writers.
  • Polyamory: Ava meets a lesbian couple on the cruise who open up their relationship while aboard the ship. They make out with her, though anything more is aborted by Deborah being kicked off.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ava and Deborah are a study in opposites. Deborah is older, successful, fashionable, fairly old-fashioned, and highly organized. Ava is young, broke, casually attired, progressive, and disorganized.
  • Rich Bitch: Conversed. Ava is excited to write for a show created by two respected British writers, until she finds out it's going to play this trope straight, and they expect her to tell horror stories about what a monster Deborah is.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Kayla sure counts thanks to having a rich father. She talks about $200,000 not being that much money.
  • Rousing Speech: When her son-in-law seems to be losing his UFC fight, Deborah goes ringside and gives him a pep talk about how he's going to go in there and prove everyone wrong. He returns to the fight and beats his opponent so hard that blood gets splattered across Deborah's face, to her delight.
  • Running Gag: When Ava and Deborah first meet, Deborah says that Ava has abnormally large hands, which Ava finds to be a bizarre and inaccurate insult. In the season one finale, Deborah shows Ava a picture of her that emphasizes her large hands and says she's "extraterrestrial." Ava comes clean about realizing that she does have large hands and can easily palm a basketball. In season two, Deborah looks at a caricature of Ava and says the artist was merciful about her hands. Ava confesses that she hid them in her pockets.
  • Sell-Out: Ava views Deborah as a sell-out, telling the same old jokes, no longer pushing the envelope and doing nothing to progress the cause of women in comedy.
  • Serious Business:
    • Deborah relies on playing blackjack so much that she hires a specific croupier to make home visits. In season two, she has the croupier visit her on the road so she can decompress.
    • Deborah simply gives away her luxury automobiles after replacing them with a new model, but when Ava leaves behind 44 cents belonging to Deborah, she demands that Ava go back and retrieve it. Only Deborah gets to decide when she is generous with her wealth.
  • Sex with the Ex: Subverted. When Ava's ex Ruby makes a move on her, Ava opts to call it a night since she has an important meeting the next day.
  • Skewed Priorities: After her father dies, Ava returns home to find her mother severely stressed out after being left on hold on the phone for hours. Ava rushes in to help, and then is told that the purpose of the call is to cancel her father's baseball channels.
  • Silver Fox: Marty Ghilain, the handsome owner of the casino where Deborah performs, played by Christopher McDonald. He's pursued by many women and has relationships with much younger women and it's implied many are with him more for his charm than his wealth.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Ava's Gen Z wokeness is met with withering remarks from Deborah. Though she's a more nuanced take on this trope, as she means well, isn't especially vocal or abrasive, and her views are treated as valid by the narrative, even if she can be overly self-righteous at times.
  • Spoiled Sweet:
    • D.J. completely depends on her mother financially and throws the occasional tantrum, but she is friendly to Ava and supportive of her boyfriend/husband. Her criticisms of Deborah's parenting are also valid, and she is trying to be more independent.
    • Also Kayla, who only got her job because her father is Jimmy's boss but is genuinely nice and well-meaning and even sets Ava up with a potentially career-making opportunity all on her own.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • Deborah can still command a stage and kills with her audience but what we see of her Vegas show is very hackneyed, with out-of-date punchlines and dated delivery.
    • Drew, the sexist stand-up that Deborah humiliates, uses so many hack sexist jokes when introducing her that she immediately knows he has no future in comedy.
    • We are told often that Deborah's new confessional material is bombing in its early run, but if anything they underplayed how bad it is. The bits we see are still using Deborah's old-school style and clashes horribly with the material, which itself is depressing, with weak punchlines.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Jimmy's assistant, Kayla, is a total moron who poured pure honey into his coffee because "you said you wanted it natural and honey comes from bears." She can't keep track of his calls, can't remember anyone he works with, and barely knows how to handle the phones. Why does Jimmy not fire her? Because she's the daughter of his boss and so he has to suck up.
    Kayla: You almost got stuck with some Harvard nerd always bragging about his Fulbright!
    Jimmy: Wow, that would have been so annoying...
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Ava turns into this when having a one-night stand with the subletting tenant of her condo. After waking up in the afternoon, she brushes off several hints to scram before the tenant tells her in no uncertain terms to leave. Ava even tries to pull the "landlord" card, but the tenant correctly states that she can kick anyone out of her home while renting it.
  • Token Minority Couple:
    • Marcus is a gay black man, with his boyfriend Wilson being dark-skinned.
    • Eva meets a lesbian couple on the cruise later — one of them is of East Asian ancestry and the other is dark-skinned.
  • Too Much Information: When Deborah asks if Ava is a lesbian, Ava gives a detailed breakdown of her romantic and sexual proclivities. Deborah is shocked and only wanted to insult Ava's fashion. Ava tends to do this trope a lot in general.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Deborah loves Diet Coke from the fountain. She even has a soda fountain built into her kitchen and is practiced in replacing the gas canisters herself. It becomes apparent that Ava has grown close to Deborah by the latter part of Season One when she orders a Diet Coke "from the fountain."
  • Trophy Wife: Marty has had several.
  • Twofer Token Minority:
    • Deborah's assistant Marcus is a black gay man. His boyfriend is also a man of color and is played by a Latino actor.
    • Ava's ex-girlfriend Ruby is Latina.
    • Both the lesbians who Ava (nearly) hooks up with on the cruise are women of color, one with East Asian ancestry the other is dark-skinned.
  • Woman Scorned: Exploited by Deborah, who in her act jokes about burning down her ex-husband's house after he left her for her sister. It turns out the fire was not Deborah's fault, though she does almost run over her sister when they meet again.
  • World of Snark: Justified in that the two main characters work in comedy.