Hacks showrunners address murky future of the show after season (series?) finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the season 2 finale of Hacks.
There was a massive death on the season 2 finale of HBO Max's Hacks. Well, that's not entirely true. But there was a death. And it could have had massive implications had it not been for a split-second game-changing decision by now self-employed manager Jimmy LuSaque (Paul W. Downs).
With Deborah (Jean Smart) — having sworn off the streamers — in the middle of taping her big self-financed stand-up special at the Palmetto, an audience member (and devoted Criss Angel fan) collapsed in the aisle after suffering a heart attack, bringing the show to a screeching halt. Jimmy went to check on the patient after he was wheeled out of the theater, only to find that the man was super dead. But knowing that such an event would completely derail the special his client had bet her career on, when Jimmy reentered the theater, he instead lied and told Deborah and the audience that the man was okay, selling his fib with some very enthusiastic hand-clapping to help seal the deal.
The gambit worked. The special ended up doing gangbusters on QVC — long live physical product! — enabling Deborah to then sell airing rights to the highest bidder, while re-establishing herself as a major current force in the comedy world. It seemed like the Deborah and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) partnership was ready to take on the world! Until Deborah cut the cord.
Sensing that Ava would continue to ignore her own career goals to play it safe by continuing to work for Deborah, the comedian fired the writer so she could pursue her own dreams — dreams that turned into a staff writing gig on a picked-up series.
With everyone in good shape (including Carl Clemons-Hopkins' Marcus, who finally found a measure of personal happiness outside of his work), the episode in many ways felt more like a series finale than a season finale. Does that mean this could be the last we see of Deborah, Ava, and company? Also, did Deborah know Jimmy was lying about the dead guy to save her special? Was the lawsuit against Ava (which Deborah finally dropped) just a gag the whole time? And are DVDs indeed the future? We sat down with showrunners Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Downs to get the full scoop on what we just saw, and whether there will be more Hacks to see in the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, I'm a little worried. Because the way everything is wrapped up so nicely for everyone at the end here, I'm like, wait a minute: Is this a season finale or a series finale?
PAUL W. DOWNS: You've got to text your vote to HBO at...
When you crafted this, how did you think about it? Was it like, "This is just a season finale," or "This is a series finale," or "We're not sure because sometimes you never know in this business, so let's do something that works both ways"?
DOWNS: We wanted to feel like there was resolution and it was really satisfying. And I think when you feel really satisfied at the end, it can often feel like something final. But Lucia said this, so I'm going to steal her quote. We feel like this is only the second chapter in a larger story that we want to tell. And when we pitched the show, we actually pitched where the series would end, which is not what you saw in episode 8 of season 2.
But yeah, I think we just wanted it to feel like there was resolution to this season, but also make it a cliffhanger in itself because it's sort of like: What does the future hold for these two women?
So what does the future hold for this show then? Is that still up in the air?
LUCIA ANIELLO: We haven't been picked up yet as far as we know. But Paul and Jen and I are in the same space because we're already meeting and talking about what we want to do moving forward. So creatively, we are moving forward and thinking about it because we're just so excited, but we haven't officially been told to do so exactly.
But you have story you all have been working on?
ANIELLO: For sure, yeah.
JEN STATSKY: We have season 3 already. We have more than that. We are very excited about what we have planned.
DOWNS: We have multiple chapters already planned.
Let's get into the finale. When Jimmy walks back into the Palmetto theater and announces the guy who had a heart attack is okay, does Deborah believe him, or does she sense he's lying to make the show work?
DOWNS: Ding, ding, ding! Door number two.
ANIELLO: Yeah, she sniffs it out. Deborah's a very astute performer and mover in the world and she knows. Jimmy kind of does something that Deborah herself would do in that moment, so she's aware of what went down.
STATSKY: And I think that's a moment where it crystallizes for her that Jimmy is the manager for her. Sure, she could go with Janet Stone, who's cutthroat, who's a bitch, who might have some opportunities that Jimmy might not have for her. But, in the end, Jimmy is a good guy and he is, as she says, a sweet kid, but he also is just enough of a shark that he works for her. And so I think that's actually a pretty awesome moment between the two of them, because it turns out he's actually a shark too.
How seriously is she considering getting rid of him before the show, when Janet goes backstage?
DOWNS: I think it's very serious. I think the stakes are so high, that she's self-producing this thing and it really has to work. And for someone to have an opportunity if it does work to then merchandise it is once-in-a-lifetime, potentially.
And Deborah, while she really cares about people who are loyal to her, and she has her own sense of justice around that, she also puts her career before most things, including relationships. And so because of that, it is a real threat, and it is a real consideration for her. She loves Jimmy. She has a lot of history with him, but she needs this to work, and having an agency behind her is important. So I think she's really, really considering it until she sees just how cunning he can be.
Let's jump to the end with Deborah and Ava. If Deborah doesn't push the proverbial bird out of the nest, what is Ava's future? Is she just going to keep playing it safe, just keep working for Deborah indefinitely and accept that safe spot?
ANIELLO: I think that's the assumption, that if Deborah doesn't, like you say, force her out of the nest, that Ava would be subsumed by her.
DOWNS: At least not maybe reach her potential that she would have on her own.
STATSKY: And like Deborah says, she takes up space, and that means that the people around her take up less space and they sometimes need to grow. And so, as a result, she feels in this moment the right thing to do is to force Ava to go figure some things out on her own.
Was the lawsuit always just a gag to Deborah? Was it leverage? What was the point of that for her?
ANIELLO: It was real to Deborah. She was legitimately suing Ava, and I think that Deborah is also a needler. She likes to kind of torture people, especially if they've wronged her. And so I think that was her way of saying, "You did this messed up thing to me. I'm going to hold it over your head. I'm going to torture you with this lawsuit that is real." And so it was real to Deborah.
We've always talked about that the relationship between Deborah and Ava is this kind of dark mentorship, that the relationship is extremely complicated and twisted in some ways. It's beautiful in some ways and loving, but it's also twisted. And so for us at the very end, this lawsuit being the thing Ava's looking forward to as a way to see Deborah, and then that being so sad to her when it goes away was a kind of perfect encapsulation of how complicated and twisted and bittersweet, this relationship has turned.
DOWNS: She definitely learned the lesson of don't violate an NDA. When you sign one, you've got to be careful. But also, it really became this thing where she looked forward to getting a chance to see her in person again. And so it was like, ugh, this thing that's been so stressful for her was something that she ended up looking forward to. It is like the rug has really pulled out from underneath her.
STATSKY: It's pulled out from the audience too.
You all took some shots at DVDs. Why do you hate physical product so much?
ANIELLO: The plastic, the waste, the unnecessary waste. Like Jimmy, we're environmentalists.
I just feel like all my favorite movies and TV shows are going to somehow disappear one day.
STATSKY: Oh, I get that.
DOWNS: Well, you know, that is a Deborah thing. She's like, film is forever, and DVDs are forever and beyond because they don't biodegrade.
Tell me where the idea came in to have Susie Essman as the director Elaine, who has kind of been pushed aside by the industry. I love how as a viewer you're led to wonder if she'll be up to the task, and then she gets in there, and she's a rockstar.
ANIELLO: That comes from this idea that especially women in the arts as they age, it feels like people are so willing and excited to kind of toss them aside and not really consider that point of view as essential. And these are women who, it took them so much more work to get that career in the first place, so you know that they're extra talented because of how hard it was, especially when they were first starting out. Like Jimmy says, it was her idea for Mary Tyler Moore to toss the hat, and she was just an intern.
So we just wanted there to be a character that you're like, "Am I supposed to trust her talent?" Deborah does, but do we? And to kind of put that to the test. And at the end of the day, Elaine does exactly what Deborah needs, which is backs her up and makes sure that the special is exactly what she needs it to be because she's a pro.
And in terms of Susie Essman, we love Susie. We worked with her on Broad City, and we just know that she's screamingly funny, and everybody knows that. But she also is capable of doing some more dramatic stuff. And when that moment happened where the guy had the heart attack, and she's in the booth freaking out about it, she really helps raise the stakes and makes you really feel like everything is on the line in this one moment, which helps us so much with that climax of Jimmy.
DOWNS: I think the Elaine character is also an encapsulation of what we wanted to do with the show, which is there are so many female stand-ups that, people are like, "funny, really great." And I think there are a lot of male stand-ups that are of equal measure that are "masterminds, iconoclasts, geniuses." And it's just like, why is that? Why is it that the bar for women is so much higher to be praised in the same way or to be given the opportunities that men are given? And so we think that's true of not just standup comedians. It's also true of women in all industries, but the arts especially. So her as a director, I think it was an example of that yet again.
I want to go back to the lesbian cruise episode. When you all put that episode together, what were the discussions like in terms of how far Deborah should go in terms of antagonizing this audience while keeping her as someone viewers would want to ultimately root for?
ANIELLO: In the end, our intention was to say, when Deborah was going off the rails and saying those offensive things, she was in the wrong. And that was absolutely our intention. And I hope that people weren't rooting for her in that moment, because like Ava says later, her orientation isn't gay or straight. It's egomaniac. That's the moment of Deborah being an intense egomaniac.
DOWNS: Yeah, we talked a lot about the level of how she puts her foot in her mouth, because you don't want it to be so ugly or detestable that she isn't someone you root for, and you want it to be like what Lucia said, rooted in her vanity, as opposed to rooted in homophobia, because she's not homophobic. She's just vain.
So we did talk a lot about what that target was and how we could execute that in a way where you still cared about the character, because in the same way that women are given less opportunities than men, I think it's easy to be an antihero if you're a man. It's not if you're a woman.
So if season 1 was these two seemingly mismatched people coming together, and if season 2 was the road trip season.… if we get a season 3, what is the tonal theme going to be?
DOWNS: These two people found each other and they're kindred spirits. And so we know in making this move where one is pushed out of the nest, we're really interested to explore what that means for each of them being apart. But also, there is that big question of how do you get them back together? Because what is it like when you're not with your closest collaborator? What is that like? What is life like?
ANIELLO: And what do you learn about yourself?
STATSKY: There's a certain amount of grief that you have to go through if your other half is missing.
DOWNS: I guess what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, maybe? I don't know. Did I just come up with that?
ANIELLO: Also, I think in general when we pitched this show, a big part of it was about it being a redemption story for Deborah Vance, and the truth is, she's just had a major success with this special as you see in the finale. And so she's continuing on that path to redemption and being reestablished in the culture. But obviously that will come with its challenges, both personal and professional.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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