Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
[Warning: Minor plot spoilers ahead.]
We first meet Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as a down-on-her-luck, twentysomething TV writer whose career is put on pause thanks to an offbeat tweet involving a GOP senator’s closeted son. It forces her cancellation from a TV writing gig – and soon after, into what she perceives as a career purgatory: a gig writing for an old Vegas comedy legend Deborah Vance (played rather brilliantly by Jean Smart). At this point, Vance is more known to Ava for her QVC gigs than her stage work. Having just been informed that her Vegas dates are getting reduced, Vance is forced to entertain the idea of working with a young comedy writer to punch up her jokes. Enter Ava.
They immediately form an odd couple of sorts – two women at different ends of the career totem chasing relevance yet again. But for all the praiseworthy things that Hacks is about – and there are many – the portrayal of how these two generations relate to each other is where the comedy gold is at. Particularly when it comes to the woke jokes and generational takes Ava is good at conjuring up – like “I had a horrible nightmare that I got a voicemail.” Not that Vance understands it – because what’s funny to Gen X, Y and Z can induce crickets for baby boomers.
Another solid dose of comedy fuel comes from Ava’s seemingly endless Vegas stay. In a brilliant episode five that itself should win some kind of award, Ava’s high-strung histrionics and perceived career plight triggers a Vegas trip of epic proportion fueled by drugs and broken dreams. I’ll leave it at that – suffice to say that Ava’s nightmare about voicemails comes up.
This is the world of Hacks – one where the bisexual Ava “fucks her Postmate” while Vance jet sets gig to gig and then back to a lavish mansion Ava likens to living in a Cheesecake Factory. It’s these searing roasts – the clap-back responses and Vance’s willingness to be amused by it all in the pursuit of comedy that demonstrates why this show (and both actresses) are so good.
It’s about two women at different places in their lives coming to terms with what they don’t know while growing an appreciation for each other. One tries to achieve her ambitions no matter what the cost (Ava) and the other is trying to avoid a backslide into irrelevance (Vance).
Einbinder is the perfect millennial to deliver this woke wake-up call to streamers watching on high-thread-count sheets. She nails her somewhat unglamorous portrayal as a screw-up from the Snapchat generation with a laser-sharp wit and a healthy amount of unearned self-esteem. But somehow, the connection between these two women gets sweeter by the day, and believably so.
Ultimately, these two women are perfect for each other (though they may not know it) in this divided world. They represent what’s possible if two people could see the world through different eyes. In that regard, Hacks may serve as a beacon of hope for the rest of us. If Ava and Vance can arrive at acceptance (yet TBD), maybe the rest of us can too. A worthwhile message – and thanks to Einbinder, Smart and the show’s writer/creators, it’s an incredibly funny one too.
They say do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. To that end, it seems like the 25-year-old Einbinder is living her best life. As the daughter of actor Chad Einbinder and original SNL cast member Laraine Newman – a couple that apparently wanted a boy so bad they nixed a few x chromosomes from the mix if Hannah’s routine on Colbert is to be believed – Einbinder has been exposed to the world of showbiz almost from the beginning.
Her big moment happened as a college student at Chapman University when without knowing exactly where her career was headed, she reportedly accepted an offer to open for comedian Nicole Byer as a member of her school’s improv troupe. Since then, it was love at first bit – and when Hannah started refining her act doing the open mic circuit, eventually becoming anointed a 2019 New Face of Comedy at Montreal’s prestigious Just For Laughs comedy festival.
With Hacks serving as a breakout role after a few smaller ones in films like North Hollywood (2021) and How to Be Broke (2017), Einbinder’s continued work as a standup led to opening for Chelsea Handler, Dana Gould and Demetri Martin, to name a few. Now, she seems ready to close some new deals as a comedic actress on the rise. With the ever-entertaining Hacks seeming like a legit streaming hit, Einbinder’s career seems poised to advance well past its cold open.
With a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing), maybe we’ll even get a Hacks season two.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.