Stars Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Mark Indelicato, and Meg Stalter, and creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky preview the new season of Hacks on EW's Around the Table.
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Deborah Vance was riding high for years as the Queen of Sin City. Now that she's fallen from grace — with the end of her long-running Las Vegas residency and bombing her final show — she's looking to rebuild her career. But that road is paved with lots of humiliation ... and her lavish tour bus, as she goes on a cross-country tour to build a new stand-up set.

That's the gist of season 2 of Hacks, which won three of its 15 Emmy nominations last year: writing for creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky; directing for Aniello; and actress for Jean Smart, who leads the ensemble that also includes Hannah Einbinder (Ava), Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Marcus), Mark Indelicato (Damien), Downs (Jimmy), Meg Stalter (Kayla), and more. They, along with the creators, are trying to maintain — if not surpass — the comedic excellence they achieved in season 1, the groundwork for which Smart thinks was established in a vital moment during the show's first episode 1.

"The scene where Ava and Deborah meet for the first time at Deborah's house, that scene is just — it's got everything. It tells you so much about what the show is going to be, it tells you so much about these two people, it shows you so much about what their conflicts are going to be, and at the same time, it's absolutely hilarious and painful to watch," Smart says, laughing, during EW's Around the Table with the cast and creators. "It was just so much fun to do. And that scene we spent a lot of time on because I think they knew if we nailed that scene, it'll set up the show."

Photograph by Karen Ballard/HBO Max Hannah Einbinder, Jean Smart HBO MAX Hacks Season 2 - Episode 2
Credit: Karen Ballard/HBO Max

The mission for season 2, on the surface, seems quite simple: rebuild Deborah's career. But there's a lot more that the writers set out to accomplish over the course of eight episodes.

"One of our primary goals was — for each character — to start to peel back the layers even more," explains Aniello. "With season 1, for Deborah and Ava, I think we got the opportunity to do that with them, but then I think we got the opportunity to do it further with them [in season 2] because their relationship is constantly evolving and putting each other in compromising situations. But especially with our ensemble, I think we've been able to do more with Meg and Carl and Mark that was exciting for all of us. Some people get to have more, period, and then there's other people who get to show different sides of themselves."

Like Carl Clemons-Hopkins' Marcus, the CEO of Deborah's company. But dealing with a break-up is causing some problems on the professional front.

"We're encountering someone who, they had their first relationship and they're now experiencing their first heartbreak, and if you are already unfamiliar with dealing with your own emotions and you don't have the usual outlets ... " Clemons-Hopkins explains, "he's trying in many ways to pretend that everything's okay and failing in many other ways ... But yeah, he's lost as f---."

While Marcus is left behind in Vegas when Deborah hits the road, her assistant Damien — played by Mark Indelicato — isn't as lucky.

"Damien is always in a state of panic. I feel that that's the way I approach him in a lot of ways — like, this is a make it or break it moment," the Ugly Betty alum explains. "In the first season, you got to see this unspoken bond between him and Marcus about him kind of being Marcus' pupil, learning from the ways in which Marcus handles the Deborah Vance empire. This season, going on the road in the beginning without Marcus was probably a bit jarring for him. There's a lot of running, there's a lot of furious texting."

As for series breakout Meg Stalter, who plays the assistant to Deborah and Ava's manager Jimmy, she's excited for the "sweet moments" in season 2 between those two characters — even though there's some residual tension because of her making him uncomfortable in a Vegas hotel room.

Hacks Season 2
Megan Stalter and Paul W. Downs on season 2 of 'Hacks'
| Credit: HBO Max

"I always knew she really loved him," Stalter says, laughing. "It is pure friendship. I mean, yeah, there was the time in the hotel, but I think she doesn't always treat him like a piece of meat. I think she really loves Jimmy. I think that's like her best friend. And there are some really wild things that happen and it was the most fun I've ever had in my life."

But the fun aside, there's also some drama, namely involving Ava, who is mourning her dad's death, while also living in fear about what Deborah will do when she finds out that Ava sent a drunken email to those TV producers detailing her boss' bad behavior.

"We have always joked that this show is a traumedy, and it really is; the show really is both and all the things because it is a reflection of life as we comedians see it, which is both ways. There is a duality there, always in life — that is just how it is for us, it's how we make sense of the world, it is how we survive it," explains Einbinder, who was Emmy-nominated for the show's first season, along with Clemons-Hopkins. "So it's a natural thing for me to sort of intertwine the two. I don't think I've ever experienced one without a touch of the other."

Watch the Around the Table video above for more from the cast and creators, including a hilarious story about a Christmas gift the showrunners tried to buy for Smart. Hacks season 2 is streaming now on HBO Max, with new episodes dropping weekly.

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