Emmy winner Smart and nominee Hannah Einbinder are on a cross-country comedy tour as they craft a saucy new stand-up set on season 2 of HBO Max’s Hacks. In this exclusive first look, the stars and series creators preview what’s to come on their grand adventure.
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Deborah Vance and Ava Daniels against the world — that's where things stand when Hacks returns for season 2 this May on HBO Max. Once-relevant Las Vegas comedy queen Deborah (Jean Smart) takes her stand-up act on the road with her decades-younger writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) in tow, workshopping new material in small clubs across the country. While a detour to the Grand Canyon proves to be "really personal" for one of them, teases Smart, the two will continue to butt heads: "It starts out really, really badly."

Buckle up, as the stars — as well as showrunners Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky — preview the journey ahead.

Hacks Season 2
Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart on season 2 of 'Hacks'
| Credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max
Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Company meeting

It's "all hands on deck," says Statsky of this meeting where Deborah's team — Damien (Mark Indelicato), Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), Ava, and Josefina (Rose Abdoo) — assembles to start planning her next steps now that her residency at the Palmetto Casino has ended. Explains Downs: "We start the season with her really needing to get another residency, but in order to do that she has to get this new act in shape. She has to create a new hour, and she has to make it so undeniable that she'll be able to cement a new place for herself in Las Vegas ... Everybody's coming together to figure out how to make that possible in a short amount of time." Doing so will also mean getting Deborah out of her "castle in Vegas" and into the "very tight, confined space" of her tour bus (adorned with "DV" on the sides), which makes for a "fun new dynamic" as they travel to the East Coast and back, says Statsky.

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

She's a hustler, baby

Deborah may no longer have her own residency at the Palmetto, replaced by acts with younger appeal like Pentatonix, but she still has that deal with QVC. And their travels won't stop her from peddling her products, her "hawking socks on the side of the road," says Smart. Deborah "was a big fish in a small pond, and now she's a big fish in a bigger pond," says Downs. "It's just funny to see somebody like her — this media mogul, who has amassed this following of fans and also a ton of money — having to pull her bus over at a roadside farm where it's quiet from traffic to film for QVC." Adds Aniello: "Deborah's hustle and grind never ends. That's part of the genius and madness of Deborah Vance." And when she's not making money, she's always negotiating for a good deal, especially on extravagant items and antiques (remember that pricey pepper shaker?). "We just shot a scene where I make the bus driver stop at a yard sale," says Smart, who won her fourth Emmy in September and a SAG Award in February for her lead role here. "But I proceed to practically swindle the person who's running it out of something fabulous.

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Desert showdown

If you're sensing Ava's shame and Deborah's disgust in this image, you'd be right. "Guilt certainly is eating away at Ava the first few episodes, and I think after a while that becomes very apparent to Deborah," Einbinder explains of this scene in a Sedona, Ariz., crystal shop. While she says the "slaps are emotional this season" — referring to that heated season 1 moment when Deborah left a mark across Ava's face — Smart (or is it a facetious Deborah coming through?) teases, with a sly laugh, that things get "a little physical." Downs confirms this is "a very climactic moment, and one that has a lot of tension," adding they thought it was "funny to put it in the most Zen space you could: New Age, chill, spa-like, yoga music. Conflict is intimacy."

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Deck the halls

While Smart may not have a lot in common with her onscreen persona, it turns out they both share a love of Christmas. The star's late husband, Richard Gilliland, "always said I needed a 12-step program for Christmas ornaments," she says, laughing. That obsession is on full display when Ava finds this room in the east wing of Deborah's house. It's a quiet, if not slightly creepy, spot to take what Downs calls a "clandestine phone call" with his character, their agent Jimmy. (Perhaps it's about that drunken email she sent in season 1 detailing her boss' abhorrent behavior?) Einbinder and the showrunners credit the production designers and prop department for helping set the scene — with a little inspiration from Downs' grandmother's Byers' Choice Carolers. "There is one fun physical gag that I think will be exciting," teases Einbinder.

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Fight on!

Deborah's daughter, DJ (Kaitlin Olson, right), is the supportive wife to her new UFC husband, Aidan (retired MMA fighter Paul Felder). Ava and Kiki (Poppy Liu, far left) go with DJ to a fight, though Ava is "trapped in her own world," says Einbinder. "The first three episodes are really Ava having a private experience. She's so worried about this email — and wherever she is, she is kind of somewhere else. She's trapped in her head and in her fear. [The UFC fight] becomes a beautiful metaphor for something that will become very apparent."

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Las Vegas royalty

Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton meets Queen of Sin City Deborah Vance at a UFC fight. The showrunners wrote the part for Newton — one of several season 2 guest stars — after hearing he is a fan of the show. Upon meeting the music legend, Smart (a longtime Newton fan) felt the need to apologize for a joke from season 1: "I told him, 'I hope it didn't offend you that I made that remark about you in the show last year — when I tell the water department to stop harassing me [because] 'Wayne Newton has five fountains' ... I'm assuming it didn't since you're here!' "

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Someone's in trouble

Megan Stalter steals every scene she's in as Jimmy's assistant, Kayla, who also happens to be the boss' daughter. While fan response to Stalter was "to us, very expected," Statsky adds that it's been "amazing to see the world react to her. People love her." But Jimmy isn't as keen on Kayla, and the two will visit "Barbara from HR" about that Vegas hotel-room matter. "The 'will-they-won't-they have her continue to work on Jimmy's desk' [answer] hangs in the balance," explains Downs.

Hacks Season 2
Credit: HBO Max

Harnessing lost love

Thought you'd never see Wilson (Johnny Sibilly) again? Seems like Marcus may have thought the same after choosing his professional life — becoming Deborah's CFO — over his relationship. "Marcus isn't exactly dressed in a way we've ever seen him before," Aniello points out, referring to the harness he's wearing while at a gay club. "His response to the breakup is to try new things out." Adds Downs: "He's trying to fill his life with work, but also with pleasure. So he's working hard and playing hard, and that takes a toll eventually." Further complicating this unexpected encounter: "He's not in the best place to run into him," teases Statsky.

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