“It’s a tough time for Deborah,” teases “Hacks” co-creator, co-showrunner, writer, director and executive producer Lucia Aniello about Jean Smart’s character in the second season of the hit HBO Max series. Unlike in the first season, where we “really meet Deborah in this insulated place of Las Vegas, where she has her creature comforts,” the new episodes send stand-up comedian Deborah and her writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) on tour to develop a new hour of material. “She knows the only way to figure it out is on the road,” Aniello says. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
Anielllo reveals that the prospect of seeing Deborah as an underdog in the second season has always been exciting to her and fellow co-creators Jen Statsky and Paul W. Downs. The three of them have been dreaming up the series for over seven years, so they always knew that a potential second year would see Deborah struggle. “She’s always had the upper hand with everybody,” she shares, and to see Deborah leave Vegas and risk everything “says a lot about her and her willingness to always put the art first.” She also reveals that potential future seasons will question if Deborah is on “a new path” and ask, “Does the old Deborah come to haunt her?”
SEE Hannah Einbinder interview: ‘Hacks’ Season 2
The season chronicles Deborah and Ava’s attempts to turn their new set about Deborah’s past into a stellar hour of material. “When she has this new hour, it’s really vulnerable and it’s really honest and it’s raw,” Aniello teases about what emerges as the season progresses. But the comedy is in the journey itself, and she comments, “It’s cool to see Jean inhabit a character who is really struggling,” adding that the new episodes capture the “beauty of this struggle.”
Aniello directs a majority of the episodes from Season 2 – she won Emmys for writing and directing the “Hacks” pilot episode “There Is No Line” last year – and she discusses changing the look of the show in these new episodes. In trading Vegas for the road, including the “bus across the country, gas stations, rest stops, dive bars,” and even a cruise ship, Aniello set out to create “a whole new visual language” for the series. “Her story of getting back out there and hitting the road again is set against this backdrop of America that is, just like her, beautiful but complicated,” she explains.
“Hacks” uses seven days to shoot each episode, and in that time Aniello and the entire crew pushes to capture as much as possible. “We’ll get 50 setups in a day and that’s not shocking,” Aniello describes, adding that she collaborates closely with her cinematographer Adam Bricker to decide “how a scene should feel” before they get into the nitty-gritty details of coverage. The series shoots with three cameras, and she will often “let Adam or the operators” decide what to capture with that third camera. Aniello also offers an in-depth look at their choices for the UFC fight sequence in the Season 2 premiere “There Will Be Blood.”
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