• Interviews

“Hacks”, Season 2 at PaleyFest

Following the first season of a smash hit TV show can make even the most seasoned of actors nervous. Jean Smart, known for such successes as Designing Women, Samantha Who?, Fargo, Legion, and Watchmen, and who took home a Golden Globe award this year for her role as a veteran stand-up comedienne Deborah Vance in the Golden Globe Winner Hacks, is all too familiar with this scenario.

“With the second season of a show that’s been a hit, you’ve got a target on [your back] because you have something to prove. But I’ve been so ecstatic with the scripts. They’re every bit as good, if not better, than the first season,” she said.

Smart was in attendance at PaleyFest, held in Los Angeles on April 7. While Smart’s co-star, Hannah Einbender, was unable to participate, fellow actors Poppy Liu and Mark Indelicato were present. Creator-writers Lucia Anniel, Paul W. Downs, and Jet Statsky were present as well.


Given that actors and producers had assembled at the Dolby Theater, site of the Oscars, the subject of the slap that occurred at the finale of Season 1 (when Smart’s Vance struck Einbender’s Ava Daniels across her face after Ava called her boss a ‘hack’) couldn’t have possibly been ignored. The moderator dubbed it ‘The best slap in TV history.’ Sighing, Smart added “I felt so bad!” Statsky nodded in agreement. “Jean really didn’t want to do that.”

Smart continued: “One of the funniest lines [from Einbender] is after I hit her. She says ‘Who hits people?!’  It was very Dynasty, a throwback to one of the great 80s TV shows.”

“It was a critical moment in the series because it set up so much of that dynamic moving forward and what it did in response. The fallout from that email, obviously, continues to resonate. Especially right now, in season two,” said Anniel, referring to Ava’s drunken email containing defamatory accusations against the comedy legend, which she sent to the Bitch PM website.

Naturally, there’s a lot of expectation for the upcoming season. It will include guest appearances by such actors as Susie Essman, Golden Globe Nominee Laurie Metcalf, Martha Kelly, Ming-Na Wen, Wayne Newton, and Devon Sawa. But it’s the hilarious-yet-contentious dynamic between the legendary comic and the millennial upstart that is at the heart of the story and what viewers most love about the show.

Nevertheless, these unlikely partners have to get past their rather spectacular dust-up from the first season. Paul Downs said “We wanted to have a kind of reset because these two people recognize their weaknesses. I think the magic of their dynamic is this start of a shift in their love-hate relationship. We wanted to be able to have a resetting of it with something that caused some tension [and the idea that] what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and what doesn’t kill you makes you build back better.” He went on: “We wanted for this season to give the audience more of what they came to love about the characters but, also, really evolve that dynamic as they go out on the road again, traveling on a tour bus.”

Watching Smart / Vance performing her stand-up routine, it’s hard to believe that the actress is a novice when it comes to stand-up comedy.

At the PaleyFest forum, Anniel offered a glimpse of the fun that takes place during the filming of the series. “I have to say: when Jean does stand-up, between takes she is cracking up all of the extras for the audience in a way that a stand-up would. When you’re writing comedy, there’s timing to it. With some actors, if they’re not comedians, you have to [explain] the timing aspect. Jean always did it, not only in the way we envisioned, but better. Every time.”

The ever-modest Smart deferred to the writers. “It was all on the page. It really was. I could just hear it. I could just hear it when I read it. My family members would probably tell you that I was the family ham growing up,” she laughs. “It’s been incredible because I got to live out the fantasy of doing stand-up.”