Content Warning: This article contains reference to suicide, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug misuse
HBO Max series Hacks dives into the lives of comedians Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), both at drastically different points in their careers, yet both struggling in some way.
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The show follows Deborah and Ava as they work together, blending humor with drama to great effect, as evidenced by the Emmy and Golden Globe awards the series has garnered thus far. Renewed for a second season, each episode of Hacks furthers the story and character dynamics of its core cast, but looking at IMDb ratings clear favorites emerge.
10 “There Is No Line” (Season 1, Episode 1) – 7.9
It may be the lowest-rated of the season, but Hacks’ first episode introduces its central premise and leading ladies in a way that showcases their differing lives, while simultaneously setting up their conflict, shown in the way each approaches comedy and the world at large.
The best shows like HBO Max’s Hacks have complex and compelling women at the forefront, and from their very first scenes both Deborah and Ava feel like well-thought-out characters, arriving on screen with layered personalities and histories. Setting the show in motion, “There Is No Line” ends with Deborah unexpectedly hiring Ava as a comedy writer, in spite of their contentious first meeting.
9 “A Gig’s A Gig” (Season 1 Episode 3) – 8.0
Episode three of Hacks gives the first real insight into the ups and downs of Deborah’s long career. While in the present-day Deborah provides publicity for a local pizza shop which leads to a conflict with Ava, a younger version of the comedian is also seen.
When Ava looks through articles and tapes covering Deborah’s early work, she comes across a pilot for a late night talk show with Deborah as the host. Although the project ultimately didn’t go forward, Ava gains a much deeper knowledge of Deborah’s life through the recording, laughing at her early jokes, and seeing Deborah with her young family.
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8 “D’Jewelry” (Season 1 Episode 4) – 8.0
Deborah’s daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson) spends time with Ava in episode four as the two attend an event to promote DJ’s jewelry business. While there, Ava and DJ commiserate over their shared problems with Deborah, but Ava also learns of the lengths Deborah goes to in order to support her daughter.
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Meanwhile, Deborah and her COO Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) navigate a party at Palmetto Casino CEO Marty’s (Christopher McDonald) house, where Deborah concocts a plan to force Marty to leave her show dates alone. The episode shines a light on multiple sides of Deborah’s character, and shows Ava starting to see them for herself.
7 “Tunnel Of Love” (Season 1 Episode 7) – 8.0
Though it isn’t her first appearance in the show, one of Hack’s most likable characters DJ plays a prominent role in episode seven of Hacks, in which Deborah throws her daughter a birthday party.
The party quickly gets heated after DJ announces her engagement to boyfriend Adrian, and Deborah suggests a prenup. After Ava tells DJ she should forge her own path, DJ spontaneously decides to get married, and Ava ends up escorting the couple to a drive-through chapel. “Tunnel Of Love” proves that DJ shares her mother’s stubbornness, while the fact that Ava gets along well with her points to Ava’s developing dynamic with Deborah.
6 “Primm” (Season 1, Episode 2) – 8.1
After Deborah’s quick turnaround decision to hire Ava in episode one, episode two shows the early growing pains of the duos new working relationship, with Deborah rejecting all the material Ava has written for her.
One antiques road trip and flat tire later, the women continue to be at odds with one another, a situation only worsened when Deborah gets picked up by a private helicopter, leaving Ava to deal with the car. Frustrated, Ava not only gets the repair but also acquires the antique that Deborah was after, and later presents it to her in an indignant moment that shows Ava’s own determination.
5 “Interview” (Season 1 Episode 9) – 8.1
“Interview” gives Ava the chance to return to her career in LA when she secretly meets with TV producers interested in hiring her, but she turns down the gig once she learns that they want her to disparage Deborah.
As Deborah prepares for a show using her and Ava’s new material, a chain of phone calls leads to her finding out about Ava’s interview, renewing friction between them. Episode nine demonstrates how far Ava and Deborah have come since their initial meeting, but also confirms that there are still challenges ahead of them.
4 “Falling” (Season 1 Episode 5) – 8.5
While Deborah tries to use the dirt she got on Marty to hold onto her Vegas shows, Ava gets caught up in the wilder side of the city, and upon meeting a man called George she has an intense night of sex, alcohol, and drugs which leads to her leaving Deborah a voicemail giving her resignation.
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The next day, Ava is horrified not only at the voicemail, but also to find that George died by suicide by jumping from their hotel window. Ava rushes to make amends with Deborah but is relieved when she learns that she hasn’t heard her message.
3 “1.69 Million” (Season 1 Episode 8) – 8.5
Arguably Jean Smart’s best performance of 2021 came about in Hack’s eighth episode, “1.69 Million”, which earned the actress an Emmy Award win. When Marty informs Deborah that her Vegas show is being cut in favor of new talent, she takes Ava to a comedy club in Sacramento to give an unplanned show.
While there, Ava and Deborah argue when it’s revealed that the club’s old owner was known to sexually harass female comedians, with Ava feeling that Deborah didn’t do enough to address such injustices once she had the power to. When Deborah takes the stage, the club’s current host makes sexist remarks. In front of the audience, Deborah offers to pay him $1.69 million to leave comedy for good, which he accepts.
2 “New Eyes” (Season 1 Episode 6) – 8.8
Proving that Hacks is one of the best shows on HBO Max right now, episode six sees Ava accompany Deborah to a luxury cosmetic surgery center so they can write while she heals from her eye lift. The two work well together, and confide in each other in moments that balance vulnerability with jokes.
The episode also features a memorable sequence where Marcus, free for once from his work obligations, dances around in Deborah’s garden and takes time to enjoy himself, displaying a different side of his personality.
1 “I Think She Will” (Season 1 Episode 10) – 9.0
It’s no surprise that season one’s finale ranks highest of Hacks’ episodes so far, given that it brings together overarching storylines and pieces of character development while also teasing what’s still to come.
“I Think She Will” shows the extremes of Deborah and Ava as a pair, with a huge fight, drastic choices, a thoughtful gift, and moments of support all featuring in the episode. As it comes to a close, Ava and Deborah prepare to go on a tour to improve their new material, but Ava receives a call informing her that the company she interviewed with have received a malicious email she wrote about Deborah when she was full of anger, and the season ends on that cliffhanger.
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Stacie is a List Writer for TV and Movies. If not writing, she’s probably reading a fantasy epic, baking cookies, or playing Hades.
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