Hacks: It’s a Funny Show about Funny Women – HBO Max Review

Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder bring us a series about the gap in comic generations.

SUMMARY

Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is a legendary comedian whose 1970s sitcom with her husband defined much of modern comedy. Unfortunately, her husband cheated on her with her sister, the show ended, Vance lost her chance at being the first female late-night host, and 40 years later she’s now a longtime fixture at a casino in Las Vegas who is fairly estranged from her daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson). After her ex-husband finally dies, Deborah is informed by the casino owner, Marty (Christopher McDonald), that he’s cutting her show dates. Deborah calls her manager, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs), who tells her she should hire a writer. While her manager, Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), is open to it, Deborah declines. Ignoring her wishes, Jimmy sends her Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), a comic writer who has been a pariah due to a poorly-received tweet. The two don’t get along, but when they start verbally sparring, Deborah ends up hiring her. Now the two have to work together to get their careers back on track and maybe get them both to the top.

Forty years as a headlining comedian do give you a nice house, though.

END SUMMARY

I was advised to check this show out or I probably never would have even heard about it, and I’m glad to pass the message on. This show is a pretty solid generation-gap comedy, but with the added element of having both of the leads be women. Deborah grew up in the comedy world when the motto was “there is no line as long as it’s funny,” but Ava lives in the modern comedy world where comedy is expected to have a social agenda. She constantly has to come up against Deborah’s older humor base involving stereotypes about marriage, femininity, and female sexuality with Ava’s more modern sensibilities. However, while Deborah doesn’t particularly drive it home as much as she probably could, there’s always still the underlying knowledge that Ava would not likely even have an opportunity to be a comedian. Deborah suffered, clawed, and fought her way into a market that often refused to even acknowledge that women could be on stage, making a foothold that Ava is using to stand. 

She fought the Man for decades, she gets a helicopter ride.

It’s probably obvious, but the key to this show is that the two leads are both, independently, hilarious. Jean Smart, aside from being a lead on Designing Women, has been a mainstay of sitcoms for decades and has lately been tearing it up on HBO with her roles in Watchmen, Mare of Easttown, and now this series. She’s got a natural ability to play both the big, over-the-top moments and the small, quiet moments without ever feeling like she’s betraying the character. When Deborah is “ON,” then she is very on. When she is being real, she’s often contemplative and deeper than people expect. Smart makes this feel like one cohesive person with two sides rather than a person putting on an act. Hannah Einbinder, daughter of famed SNL cast member Laraine Newman, is just as new to the field of comedy as her TV counterpart, but she has a lot going for her. She was the youngest person to do a stand-up set on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the age of 25. She’s got an absurdist touch to her comedy that makes it feel like her lines can literally come from anywhere and a delivery that makes even the most insane sentence sound funny.

They really play off of each other well.

Overall, it’s a pretty solid show.  I recommend giving it a try. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – Space Force: It’s Out Of This World… Okay?

Steve Carrell stars as the first commander of the US Space Force.

SUMMARY

Four-star General Mark Naird (Steve Carell) is appointed by the President to be the first head of Space Force, a newly-created branch of the military. His only directive is that he is supposed to have “boots on the moon” in the near future. With that in mind, Naird moves his family, including his daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) and his wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) to Colorado. A year later, Naird and his chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) are ready to finally start launching stuff into space, but it turns out that rocket science is… well, rocket science. Despite the usual government incompetence, Naird’s team, including Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), scientist Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang),  and his social media advisor F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz) needs to shoot for the moon.

My god, so much talent in this image.

END SUMMARY

I admit that I had low expectations of this show, because almost any media that is based on something topical like this is likely to be rushed. Remember that show based on the Geico cavemen? You probably don’t, because it only aired six times and the ratings on it dropped so fast that it dented the floor of the ABC building, but that WAS a thing. However, since I honestly think Steve Carrell could read the phone book in a way that would make me laugh, I gave it a shot. 

So many medals.

This show is extremely hit-and-miss. Some of the jokes and performances are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly some of the scenes with John Malkovich. However, those scenes are often punctuated with long bouts of unfunny attempts to take shots at the current state of America. I get why they wanted to do them, but that kind of humor ages poorly and really doesn’t lend itself to scripted comedy that well, outside of topical shows like SNL or late-night TV. Saying “haha, this politician we’re parodying is a dick” isn’t a joke in itself, and the show tends to just say that and then not actually come up with a real joke. The best scenes are the ones that are based around the actual difficulties related to getting people into space or about the difficulties of dealing with how insane politics can be, not the ones where you can feel the screenwriters shouting “see, we made the female representative AYC, like AOC, get it?” 

Oh look, she’s holding an orange and asking angry questions. Funny!

However, since this is Netflix, the show probably does a great job of being really easy to follow and binge while also posting on Instagram or browsing a blog weighing the merits of various taco chains. The leads are all solid, there are a few funny running gags, there’s a monkey at one point, and some of the recurring actors, like Fred Willard (R.I.P. you funny genius), Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, or Kaitlin Olson manage to take even some mediocre lines and turn them into solid gold because they can go all-out. 

This isn’t from the show. I just really miss Fred Willard.

Overall, I would recommend not putting it on top of your list of must-see-TV, but if you just want something in the background, it’s a good choice. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

15)    Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

Okay, so, this one might be a little higher on the list than it should be upon repeated viewings, but, frankly, I refuse to apologize. Make your own list if you don’t agree. This is a great show, a great episode, and people should watch it.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show about the worst people in the world. People said that about Seinfeld when it aired, but this takes it to a level that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld probably would never have imagined possible. Actually, without shows like Seinfeld, where we don’t particularly think the protagonists are supposed to be “good people,” this show would have died immediately. Instead, it’s carried on for more than a decade. Ultimately, the “Gang” only stays together because no other human beings would ever tolerate their behavior, which is why they tend to spend most of their time in the disgusting bar that they co-own and operate, Paddy’s Pub.

AlwaysSunnyCast.png
It’s a less productive Manson Family

The characters are, in ascending order of awful: Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day), the illiterate, glue-sniffing, stalker Janitor; Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson), the wanna-be starlet without talent who also is constantly physically violent and an occasional off-screen arsonist; Ronald “Mac” McDonald (Rob McElhenney), the idiotic Christian fundamentalist wanna-be tough-guy (which is why he hides his homosexuality for most of the series) who will betray his friends instantly if it benefits him; Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), the perverted, disgusting, millionaire ex-businessman who basically is driven by nothing but his own id (because he’s rich enough to avoid real consequences); and Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton). Dennis Reynolds is a psychopath. He manipulates people just to prove he can, believes himself to be a “golden god,” threatens people constantly, and, to top those already great qualities, is a consummate liar, almost certainly an outright rapist, and probably a serial killer.

The show relies on being the anti-sitcom in order to thrive, and it does so with 3 different running themes: 1) The characters are aware of how sitcom tropes usually go, try to use it to their advantage to “game the system,” and fail miserably. This level of somewhat self-awareness makes it more entertaining because it gives us something to measure SunnyFlanderizationagainst. 2) The characters are slowly becoming weirder and weirder, a process usually called “Flanderization” on a sitcom, after Ned Flanders of The Simpsons. Unlike most shows, however, this Sunny not only has characters point it out, but actually makes it clear why it’s happening. The Gang are all alcoholics who dabble in other substances, have serious mental and physical health issues they refuse to address, and, most importantly, they never actually suffer true repercussions for their actions so they have no motive to do anything but get worse. 3) The gang are literally poisoning all the people they interact with. Charlie’s obsession, the Waitress, loses jobs throughout the series. Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara starts off as a priest, but by the most recent season he is homeless, severely burned, addicted to all the drugs out there, and has been in more than one dog orgy. Unlike other series where the supporting cast maintains their status, the guests in this show frequently take the punishment which the cast deserves, and more, bringing them down to their level.

SunnyCricket2
Rickety Cricket: Season 1 vs. Season 10

SUMMARY

This episode manages to show exactly how toxic the Gang is through a beloved family pastime, playing a board game. For those of you who had siblings, you may be recalling some fights over monopoly or, God forbid, Risk that almost escalated to violence or verbal abuse. This episode takes that feeling and ratchets it up to eleven. It is revealed that, when they have nothing else to do, the Gang created a game many years ago that they play, called “CharDee MacDennis.” In this episode, they decide to play another round.

sunnychardeelevels.jpgCharDee MacDennis is exactly the kind of game that these crazy *ssholes would create. First, you have to drink the whole time, going from beer to wine to liquor. Second, the levels are “mind” which involves answering questions, creating art, solving puzzles, or just getting random cards that break the game (such as “take the money from everyone’s pockets” or “Dennis and Dee go straight to level two.”). The questions are not actual trivia questions, they’re just opinions they wrote in the 90s (such as: What’s the greatest band in the world? Chumbawumba). The second level is “Body,” which involves physical challenges that are actually dangerous or painful. The third is “Spirit,” which allows the Gang to emotionally abuse each other that it has driven them to be suicidal in the past.

Cheating is encouraged and is not severely punished, but for breaking minute rules of formal play, players are punished with literally potentially lethal consequences. Basically, it encourages dishonestly, while allowing everyone to inflict punishments on everyone else for tiny mistakes. Yes, this is a game that is crafted just to hurt all the people involved, literally on every level.

sunnygamepieces.jpg
And they destroy the losers’ pieces

In this episode, Frank is the audience surrogate, as he is the only person who has never played the game before. Because Frank is a terrible person, as opposed to being horrified, he’s often fairly excited or interested in the game, which allows the audience to overlook the fact that most people playing this game would probably die just for alcohol poisoning. As a kicker, Dennis and Dee’s team has never lost a game, something they lord over Charlie and Mac, and later Frank.

END SUMMARY

This episode both shows us how terrible the current Gang is, but also gives us a vision of the past Gang, because they’re the ones who decided to undertake creating a massive over-the-top game in order to abuse each other. There are only two game pieces because they didn’t consider adding anyone else in, which further cements that these people can only exist with each other. The questions are all opinion based because all of them prefer opinion to any form of actual, verifiable fact… and because all of them are pretty dumb. They even resolve ties by flipping a coin, because “When we were writing the rules, at one point, we just got really bored, and we phoned it in.” Not only are they the kind of terrible people that would make this game, but they couldn’t even manage to go all the way with it.

All comedy comes from pain and this episode is set around a game designed to cause as much pain as possible to everyone involved. This makes the episode pretty much hilarious from start to finish.

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If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.