Deborah Vance is back in Hollywood, but she had to give up a lot to get there. In the last few seconds of the bittersweet season finale of Hacks, Deborah (played by Emmy winner Jean Smart) gives Ava (played by Hannah Einbinder) the old heave-ho. Does Deborah really want to help Ava with her career, or does she just want to get back at the young writer for being so cynical? Here, Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, who has won an Emmy for their writing, take us back to that time and talk about Deborah’s future in Hollywood.
DECIDER: The first season concluded on a cliffhanger about Ava’s treachery. Many of the emotional storylines are neatly wrapped up at the end of the season. Did it strike you as a possible series finale? How many seasons do you think there will be in the future? Why would you want to finish it without establishing a clear Season 3 storyline?
Lucia Aniello: How many seasons? The answer is 69! [she makes a peace sign] Just kidding. We have an idea of how many seasons there are, but I’m not sure if we really know. The truth is, we know how we want the story to end. We’ve said this before, and I think we’ve told you, too. I don’t think we know exactly how many seasons it will take to tell that story, but we do know how we want it to end. So, right now, we are just a small part of a bigger story.
Jen Statsky: And I don’t know if we really feel like the stories are over or wrapped up. It’s more than the characters are changing and growing, and we’ve always said we wanted this show to feel as real and grounded as possible. And we wanted — especially with someone like Deborah, who is learning about herself through her actions and whose actions are changing as she learns to be more responsible for herself — for those lessons to show up in her actions as well.
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In that vein, there’s a recurring theme this season concerning whether or not you have to be ruthless to succeed in comedy. Deborah believes you are. But Ava’s biggest victories this season appear to be when she is nicer, more honest or admits her flaws. Is Deborah correct in her assessment? Is it necessary for Ava to be a shark? Is that one of the subjects you’d want to explore? What are your thoughts on that thesis?
Aniello: I think it has always been true, especially for women in the arts, that you have to be a tough competitor. But I think that’s less true now that things have changed and women have more chances. So, that is true, but I think it’s less true as the industry changes, hopefully for the better. I agree with what you’re saying, but I also think that Ava’s wins come from her admitting her mistakes, becoming more open, and being willing to look at herself in a way she’s never been able to before. So I think that both of them have become better people by thinking more about themselves, but I’m not sure that either of them has reached Nirvana yet.
I’m delighted you mentioned Kayla (Megan Stalter). I didn’t expect us to like her, and I wasn’t prepared for it. Is that anything that astounded you as well?
Jen Statsky: I think people loved Megan’s performance and thought she was so funny from the start of the show with Kayla. Even though she scared Jimmy and made his life very hard, I think that performance really stuck with people. In season two, we wanted to build on the relationship between Jimmy and Kayla by giving Kayla more depth. In episode five, she tells Jimmy, “Everyone thinks I’m a joke, but I do want to be a manager.” I want to be like you.’ That showed something about who she was.
The ending was both sad and happy. Does this mean that Deborah officially thinks of Ava as her daughter and wants to treat her well because she wasn’t so nice to her own child, DJ?
Statsky: Deborah and Ava sometimes act like moms to each other, but I’m not sure if we can say for sure that they are replacing each other as mother and daughter. I think there are different sides to it, for sure. You never know who in the world might give you a “mom moment.” It can even be a stranger. Deborah is a character whose traits are always changing. Deborah can see that her job as DJ’s mother did not go well. But I don’t think she’s a tragic character in every way. Deborah is learning how to be a better person in general. I think that her decision to fire Ava is partly a sign that she is growing up and partly a sign that she is afraid of how close the two of them are. I think it’s both of those things at once.
In the Nashville episode, you had Ava state that she was clinically depressed, which was a bit of a throwaway sentence. Are you going to clarify where her sense of humor comes from?
Statsky: Ava is a character whose childhood showed that she felt pretty alone and didn’t have a strong bond with her family. She really liked comedy because it made her feel like she was part of the world and that other people saw things the same way she did. I don’t think that funny people always have to have been hurt. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but Ava is definitely someone who grew up with depression and finally felt at home in comedy.
Why did you have Ava suffer for the whole season, knowing that the lawsuit was looming?
Aniello: From Deborah to Ava, it was used to poke and hurt people. Then, at the last minute, it stops being used as leverage. It’s something Ava wants because it means she could see Deborah again. That was a really surprising way for Deborah to change how people thought the lawsuit would be used and what it meant between the two of them. It turned into a sign of love.
Is Laurie Metcalf’s role as Deborah’s road manager tough to cast? She does, after all, have a day job.
Downs: It was hard to schedule because she has another job, but we were lucky that Linda Lowy, who does casting for HBO and Warner Brothers, is basically family and was having dinner with Laurie the day she read our script, which said, “Think Laurie Metcalf.” It was a dream come true to work with her. Linda told Metcalf, “I just read a script that mentioned your name, and the name of the character is Weed.” So I think that was enough to get her to read it and agree to do it. So it was strangely easy and like fate that he got her. But she does write a lot and works a lot.
It appears like you’re laying the groundwork for Deborah to obtain a late-night talk program. At the same time, it appears that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will take Midge Maisel in that direction in the final season. Were you aware of what was going on?
Downs: I was completely unaware!
Statsky: I didn’t know that until right now.
Downs: We try not to be too affected by what other people do. We try to put the story and characters first. What was going on over there was unknown to us. We’ve always wanted this show to be about two people who find their perfect comedy partner, make each other better, and start on the road to redemption. So we don’t know what that means yet. But maybe we are, we just don’t want to say.
So, as you sit here, do you have any idea where you want to take Deborah? Do you have a plan for where you want her to go?
Statsky: What’s crazy is that we pitched the show with the last episode of the series. So, yes, we do know how we want the story to end. A few people in town know, but I don’t know if they can remember. There are people in charge of the show who know how it ends.
Before I go, tell me about your favorite portion of Season 2’s adventure. Has it been simpler to put the performance together? Has it been more difficult? Is there a line you’d be pleased to smuggle in? Do you have a guest star?
Aniello: I think it was about the same level of hardness all around.
Downs: I think the most satisfying thing about Season 2 is that people really got into the show, and when that happens, you really want to give them what they want. We want to make the show as good as we can, but the most rewarding thing has been hearing from the people who liked the show from the beginning that Season 2 is even better than Season 1. So I feel like saying, “Whew!” We respected the people who care about it and gave them something fun to do in a crazy world.
Statsky: I agree with everything Paul and Lucia said, and I also think it’s nice that Season 1 is made in a bubble, where no one knows how it will be received. Then, as Paul said, we’re so lucky that Season 2 will be well received by fans of the show. And also getting to put people in the show who we’ve been big fans of for a long time. So like Harriet Harris or Laurie Metcalf. Do you get what I’m saying? Susie Essman. Getting to bring these new characters into the world and have them played by people we couldn’t believe we were on set with us was another huge privilege of making Season 2.