The odd couple of different generations is nothing new to the world of television. The wise and often grumpy older character being paired with a phone obsessed, coffee drinking “millennial.” This acts as the central inciting incident in HBO Max’s hit series “Hacks” which follows Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young comedy writer who has fallen from grace, as she is assigned to write material for the Joan Rivers-esque comedian, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart). While Ava is a young LA comedian who has just been “cancelled” for a Twitter joke, Deborah is a Las Vegas comedian who performs weekly shows at one of the biggest casinos to tourists in their fifties.
Like in most odd couple stories, Ava and Deborah don’t get along at first. Ava, who has a bit more sarcastic and odd sense of humor, finds Deborah’s, at times ,offensive zingers to be “hack.” Deborah, who’s humor is more based on punchlines, finds Ava’s comedy confusing and pretentious. The views they have of one another’s humor perfectly describes the generational divide of real life comedians. Where the comedians of older generations think the younger generation is too politically correct and sensitive and where comedians of the younger generation often think boomer comics are just hacks who can’t adapt to the changing times. Despite these differences between the generations of comedians, episode 8, tilted“1.69 Million,” reveals that the two generations have actually dealt with a lot of the same issues.
“1.69 Million” centers on Deborah and Ava visiting a comedy club that Deborah started performing at when she was younger. There, Deborah reunites with an old friend and fellow comic, Francine (Anna Maria Horsford), and the two discuss a promoter they knew who had recently died. The two of them joke about how this promoter was such a pervert, constantly flirting with the women comics and only booking them for shows if they sat on his lap. As Deborah and Francine laugh off the sexual harassment they experienced, Ava looks on in horror. She later confronts Deborah about why she didn’t speak up against the promoter to protect other women, but Deborah argues that that would have ruined her career. The two clash heads over this issue, mirroring the real issues brought on with the Me Too Movement.
Ava and Deborah’s different perspectives of how Deborah handled the perverted promoter mirror the actual struggles women comedians face. There’s Ava’s perspective, which can be argued that she has since she has yet to have this experience, where Ava believes you should out any abuser, that you should put the safety of other women first over your own career. Deborah on the other hand, admits that she didn’t speak out about her experiences both because it was seen as “normal” back in the day and that if she spoke out, then she would be labeled as “difficult,” meaning that no one would want to work with her again. Both their views represent the fears and morals that run through women’s heads when they are faced with abuse. Ava’s morality represents why people should morally come forward, both so the perpetrator faces consequences and so that they are unable to hurt anyone else ever again. Meanwhile, Deborah’s views represent the sad realities of speaking out, where men in power can see the perpetrator’s behavior as acceptable and will thus label the woman speaking out as “difficult to work with, ending her career. During the character’s debate, Deborah reassures Ava that they live in better times so what’s done is done, it’s not like this behavior still exists.
Deborah believes that the comedy scene is more “woke” and socially aware until she meets Drew (Adam Ray), the pure embodiment of the toxic leather jacket wearing bro comedian. Drew flirts with the women comics and cracks lame sexist jokes during his act, like commenting on Deborah’s breasts. Drew makes Deborah realize that the modern comedy scene isn’t quite as “safe” as she thought it was, and that female comics are still dealing with the same bullshit that she dealt with decades ago. This leads Deborah to realize that with her fame now, she has the power to take a stand and to protect other women comics. She does this by calling Drew out on stage during his set, offering him 1.69 million dollars to never perform comedy again.
Deborah’s face off with Drew is her showing that she has power over him, despite his straight white male privilege. As Drew and the audience think Deborah is joking, she assures them that she is not, and says that if Drew thinks he could ever make that much money off his comedy career then he doesn’t need to accept the money. With this, Deborah is now challenging Drew’s confidence in his own talent as a comedian, emasculating him in front of the whole comedy club. When Drew shakes Deborah’s hand and accepts, he gives in, admitting that he needs Deborah’s money because he will never be as successful as her. In doing this, Deborah both calls out Drew’s toxic behavior while making sure he doesn’t hurt any other women by paying him to never perform comedy again.
At the end of this, Ava and Deborah develop an unspoken respect for one another, where Deborah realizes that the problems she faced decades ago are still present and where Ava admires how Deborah used her power to creatively call out this toxicity. “Hacks” “1.69 Million” is an excellent episode because of how it portrays the different themes that revolve around both the Me Too Movement and the toxicity of many comedians. The episode appropriately shows the different sides of how women deal with and handle sexual harassment in the industry, from wanting to speak out to protect other women to fearing how speaking out will tarnish their livelihoods. The episode respects the complexity of these issues, perfectly representing the toxicity that many women comics face, all while letting the characters grow by the episode’s final moments.
“Hacks” season 1 is available to stream on HBO Max.