The sophomore slump is, as history has shown, a real thing. The first season of “Hacks” earned an Emmy for Jean Smart and a nom for Hannah Einbinder — so the new season had to step it up. And that’s exactly what the writers did, kicking things into high gear — literally — as Deborah Vance and Ava Daniels hit the road on a larger-than-life tour bus.
“Season 1 was a tough act to follow. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself this season, at least in the beginning,” Einbinder tells Variety. “I didn’t want to let everyone down. But then once I got back into the swing of filming, and we all kind of got in our groove, it just felt so right. ‘The gang’s back together!’ And it’s this cohesive, well-oiled machine that runs really well.”
Smart adds: “You’re always having to prove yourself, especially if the first season is very successful. But as soon as I started reading the scripts, I knew that they just were going to blow it out of the water again.”
As legendary Vegas fixture Deborah Vance, Smart evokes comparisons to comedians of yore, from Joan Rivers to Elaine May.
“Unlike the rest of the world — God, don’t strike me down — I was not a fan of Lucille Ball’s when I was a kid. But Phyllis Diller I thought was hilarious,” she says. “I dressed up as her to go to a costume party in seventh or eighth grade.”
But don’t be fooled — Smart’s portrayal of Vance is far more than an impression, something she credits to the series’ writers. “The script just gave me everything, and I feel so grateful, because I was able to make the character my own and use my instincts about comedy, instead of trying to copy somebody else’s rhythms, which I think would be not only really difficult, but I think not as successful.”
While the majority of the critical and fan response to “Hacks” has been overwhelmingly positive, a vocal minority has taken issue with Einbinder’s character on social media — something Smart, who doesn’t have a Twitter account, was surprised to learn.
“I’m not really on Instagram either,” she says. “I let my assistant do it. I just gave her permission. I don’t ever look at it.”
“What a life. I envy you,” Einbinder retorts. “I have seen negativity … random people’s tweets.”
Smart cuts in: “I don’t want to hear that! Are you serious?”
Einbinder gives her a crash course. “I think there are plenty of male characters on television who are protagonists, and they are cheaters and murderers and serial killers,” she says. “And we’re all like, ‘Oh, I love that guy. I love that show. I feel for him.’ And Ava is an imperfect 25-year-old person and people are like, ‘Kill her!’”
“You have to consider the source,” Smart interjects. “These are people who have nothing better to do but sit at home and tweet things.”
Smart and Einbinder’s onscreen chemistry certainly translates in real life as they volley back and forth, even via a Zoom call. Smart says developing their characters’ relationship further was one of the aspects she most looked forward to in the sophomore season.
“Now that they’ve gotten to know each other better, would that take some of the fun of the sparks out of it? Not at all,” she quips. “In fact, I think because they’re a little more familiar with each other, and especially because they’re in a car together and then a bus together, they feel free to insult each other a little bit more. I think it’s sort of like a long-term marriage: ‘He’s not going anywhere, I’ll just tell him what I really think! Honeymoon’s over!’”
Some new faces are thrown into the mix this season: Susie Essman, Ming-Na Wen, Laurie Metcalf, Margaret Cho and Martha Kelly, to name a few. “It really is such a dream come true to be surrounded by A++ performers and have them all be women,” Einbinder gushes.
“It’s like the island from ‘Wonder Woman.’ I want to live here. Can I just live in this world forever, and only this world? The best, most talented people and everyone’s a woman. Please.”
Smart says she’s “gratified” that men, too, love the women-centric world of “Hacks,” as she makes a pitch for why the series should be on everyone’s radar.
“I think people will love this show if they tune in — and I hope they’ll watch Season 1 if they haven’t seen it yet — because I think you’ll get so involved in these characters. They’re so well-written and they’re so complicated. And at the same time, absolutely hilarious. So if you want to fall in love with some characters, and also really laugh, what more could you ask for?”
Einbinder adds, “I would say that, if you are looking for a little bit of relief from the current hell that is the world, you should come and join us on the show ‘Hacks’ and lose yourself for a moment.” Plus, Smart notes, it’s “Tres gay.”