Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder bring us a series about the gap in comic generations.
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.
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.
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.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid show. I recommend giving it a try.
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