“When you meet Deborah, she’s on autopilot,” says “Hacks” co-creator, co-showrunner, executive producer, and writer Jen Statsky of Jean Smart’s character in the first season of the HBO Max comedy. To set up Season 2, the series pushed Deborah outside of her comfort zone by having the stand-up comedian bomb her final Las Vegas show, a failure that in Statsky’s words leaves Deborah feeling “invigorated.” The new batch of episodes sends Deborah and her writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) out on the road to test out new material, which Statsky describes as a “very exciting jumping off point.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
No longer feeling welcome in Vegas and with a new set of very unpolished material in need of serious work, Deborah starts Season 2 as a real underdog. “It’s probably not funny to watch someone continually succeed,” Statsky notes about why the show wanted Deborah to face a “really hard, really challenging” journey in these new episodes. Despite all of Deborah’s fame and wealth, Statsky stresses, “There’s things that are still out of her reach.”
Deborah’s new set is an attempt at telling the ups and downs of her life and career through comedy. As a comedy writer herself, Statsky shares that authenticity is key, and she conveys how she, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs always “start at a very real, grounded place.” “You can feel it and smell it when it feels real,” she adds. Although she emphasizes that writing for all of the characters on “Hacks” is “such a joy,” she notes that Ava “is the closest to me in experience.”
Ava has a particularly hard road to travel in Season 2 as she mourns the loss of her father (Louis Herthum), who died in the first season finale. “Grief is a process that you’re never done with,” Statsky shares, adding that the writers wanted to “treat that with realness and dignity” in the new episodes. Ava’s journey mirrors Deborah’s own, who for the first time finds herself able to “talk about that pain in her work and in her art on stage.”
Of course, the dynamic between Ava and Deborah is top of mind and as complicated as ever when the series returns. Ava is panicking about if and when Deborah will see the revealing and harsh email she wrote about her boss at the end of the first season, especially as the two characters are largely isolated together on tour. Statsky comments on their relationship saying, “Any relationship that’s worth anything that is truly intimate between two people isn’t just a straight line, there’s conflict and challenges.” The writers often repeated the phrase “conflict is intimacy” while working on this season, and she shares that co-creator Downs said Ava and Deborah should “build back better.”
Alongside Downs and Aniello, Statsky won the Emmy for Comedy Writing last year. Looking back, she describes the victory as “surreal.” “I always used to think it was lame when people said they were so surprised,” she reveals, but now she understands because they were all genuinely shocked. Statsky says she appreciated the series’ wins and nominations because the entire cast and crew “made this show during a really difficult time with covid,” so to see the recognition from “their peers and by the different guilds and the Academy” was “rewarding.”
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