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Hein’s TV Picks: Hacks Avoids the Sophomore Slump

How a great show got even greater. PLUS: Candy, Conversations with Friends, and Breeders.
  • Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks." (Photo: HBO Max)
    Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks." (Photo: HBO Max)

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    Hacks returns this Thursday, and it couldn't come at a better time. Deborah Vance may have lost her Vegas residency, but thankfully she's still out there making audiences and her entourage laugh uncomfortably.

    The first season of the HBO Max comedy was a surprise hit with Emmy-winning Jean Smart leading the way as a veteran Vegas comedian. Young writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) convinced Deborah to get more real in her stand-up, but old habits are hard to break. Ava's season one issues are the catalyst for the new season, and any fears of the duo being "too nice" to one another are immediately erased.

    It's easy to draw parallels between Deborah Vance and Joan Rivers, but Hacks is much more than that. Deborah's team is filled with rich characters with their own storylines and plenty of laughs.

    The first season explored the relationship between new and old comedy styles through its characters. Deborah and Ava learned from each other, and the out-of-touch veteran faced some hard truths while espousing plenty of wisdom to her younger colleague.

    If a comedy gets nominated for 13 Emmys (and wins 3) in its inaugural season, critics like me are looking for a sophomore slump. Many series lose the edge that made them compelling to watch in the first place, but that doesn't happen here. The contrast in Deborah's and Ava's lifestyles sometimes goes a little too far in stereotypical situations, but their relationship holds up well.

    The relationship that rivals Deborah and Ava in season two is between Ava's agent Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) and his assistant Kayla (Megan Stalter). Their fathers each got them their respective agency jobs, and the free-spirited Kayla continues to drive Jimmy nuts. He thinks she's his biggest hindrance and does something about it with unforeseen consequences. These two just make me laugh.

    It's hard not to spoil the six episodes I've already seen, but let's just say that the laughs and awkward situations don't stop coming. Jean Smart might have to make room on her shelf for another Emmy.

    Here's what else is worth watching this week…

    SEASON PREMIERES

    Candy (Hulu)
    Monday, May 9th

    Jessica Biel has been making some really good TV (check out The Sinner). Here she plays 80's Texas housewife turned axe murderer Candy Montgomery.

    Candy comes from the creators of The Act, who clearly know their way around suburban misfortune. The five-part series is set to unspool over the course of the week, with new episodes dropping daily starting tonight. It’s an interesting move by Hulu, and could establish a new pattern for future series. Watch trailer.

    Conversations with Friends (Hulu)
    Sunday, May 15th

    The team the brought us Normal People returns with a new Sally Rooney adaptation. This time two college students in Dublin get involved with an older married couple.

    The new series doesn’t have a lot in common with Normal People, but once again the actors good looking, and the relationships are complicated and messy. Watch trailer.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    Breeders (FX) – Martin Freeman shines in the third season of this dark comedy that continues to prove parenting isn't so easy. Monday at 10pm.

    THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
    (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

    The Essex Serpent (Apple TV+) – Claire Danes moves from Victorian London to Essex where a mythical creature lurks about. Friday.

    The Kids in the Hall (Amazon) – The legendary Canadian comedy troupe reunites with notable guests for more sketches and head crushing in this new series. Friday.

    The Lincoln Lawyer (Netflix) – David E. Kelley takes a crack at the Michael Connelly book turned film chronicling L.A. lawyer Mickey Haller. Friday.

    The Time Traveler's Wife (HBO) – Stephen Moffat takes a crack at the Audrey Niffenegger book turned film chronicling a couple dealing with a time-traveling disorder. Sunday at 9pm.

    GREATEST HITS
    (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

    This Week's Pick: Sherlock (PBS) – With creator Stephen Moffat and stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman all appearing in new releases this week, so what better time to recommend this excellent modern take on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson? Each episode is a mini-movie, and although the cases will be familiar to some, the writing and acting jump right off the screen.

    Previous Picks:
    Fauda (Netflix)
    Magic City (Peacock)
    Imposters (Netflix)
    Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
    For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
    Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    Damages (Hulu)
    Luther (HBO Max)
    Downton Abbey (Netflix)
    Justified (Hulu)
    The Good Wife (Paramount+)
    Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
    Patriot (Amazon Prime Video)
    Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
    The Split (Amazon Prime Video)
    Bordertown (Netflix)
    Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

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    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Hacks, HBO Max, Breeders, Candy, Conversations with Friends, Hannah Einbinder, Jean Smart, Megan Stalter, Paul W. Downs