‘Hacks’ Showrunners on ‘Broad City’ Influence and What’s Next for Deborah Vance

Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky tell TheWrap they can’t wait to see star Jean Smart in a second season

hacks lucia aniello jean smart paul downs jen statsky
Getty Images, Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max, Getty Images, Wikimedia

Season 1 of HBO Max’s “Hacks” comes to a close this week, but rest assured, this is far from the last we’ve seen of Las Vegas legend Deborah Vance.

HBO recently renewed “Hacks” for a second season, a decision that co-showrunner and executive producer Lucia Aniello said the creators kind of “forced” onto HBO. By the end of Season 1’s final episode, Deborah (Jean Smart) is gearing up for a nationwide tour of a new hourlong stand-up routine, and she’s bringing her begrudging assistant Ava (Hannah Einbinder) along with her.

While Season 1 of “Hacks” hyped up Deborah’s new set but didn’t really show it in the final episode, the showrunners noted that it’s possible we’ll see some of the new material as she and Ava hit the road in Season 2.

“We forced them,” Aniello joked. “By doing that end of this finale, we kind of forced them to say yes, right? We put them in a really tough spot. So for that I say, ‘Thanks and sorry,’ but also, yes.”

Aniello executive produces the show alongside Paul W. Downs and co-showrunner and co-writer Jen Statsky. Hacks is also executive produced by Michael Schur’s Fremulon and David Miner and Morgan Sackett’s 3 Arts Entertainment.

Aniello and Downs have previously worked together on the Comedy Central show “Broad City,” which released its fourth and final season in 2019.

Aniello, Downs and Statsky told TheWrap in a recent interview that they’re excited for Season 2 of “Hacks” and to show more of the growing (and sometimes straining) relationship between Deborah and Ava. The creators also discussed how they worked to make sure the show was an equal mix of fantastically funny and also relatable to the average fan.

“The biggest growing up we’ve done is to say, oh, the show is going to never be too broad and never be too melodramatic. It’s going to be as true to life is we can make it,” Downs said.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How does it feel to be renewed for a second season?

Downs: In the words of Deborah Vance: Me, thrilled. I’ll keep it pithy.

Aniello: I’m very excited. We’re really excited that we get to continue to tell the story because first chapter’s done but we’re excited. We’ve got a lot more plans. So (I’m) really excited, of course, a little exhausted, you know, a little scared, but that’s natural. We just finished very recently.

What are you most looking forward to in Season 2?

Downs: For me that I really love scenes that we had like in the antique store or at the Sacramento comedy club, when we get Eva and Deborah in a new environment and out of Deborah’s castle that she’s built for herself in this oasis. I always find those (scenes) to be so fun. So I’m excited to see them in new locations and new places — although I’m also excited to see more of Las Vegas, because, you know, that is the home for the show and so I don’t want to suggest that it’s not gonna also be there.

Aniello: I can’t wait to see Jimmy and Kayla’s fall out with Barbara from HR. I think we know that what happens in Vegas is not going to stay in Vegas, it’s absolutely going straight to HR. So that I think is something that I’m excited to do. We’ve been talking about what that what what happens with the two of them and I’m excited to write for that more.

Statsky: And I can’t wait to see where DJ’s entrepreneurship leads her this time. D’Jewlery? A spin-off? Who knows.

You’ve all worked on some heavy-hitting TV comedies, from “Parks and Rec” to “Broad City” and “The Good Place” — did any of that prior work influence the making of “Hacks”?

Statsky: We threw everything we knew about them out the window. We got lobotomies.

Aniello: I actually miss that lobotomy. I’ll tell you, what a great week that was, I woke up and no thoughts.

Statsky: I think for all of us, coming from “Broad City” or “Good Place,” or “Parks,” I think why people luckily love those shows is the relationships between the characters are just so strong and real. Those are three shows (where) the setting couldn’t be more different. The tone is very different (though) I guess they’re kind of in the same world. But it’s about these relationships between these people and they feel like real people — their friendships feel like real friendships, their relationships romantically feel like ones you have. That was a goal for us going into this year (was) to just make it feel — maybe more than anything all of us have ever done — feel really grounded and real and make it like, yes, they’re funny because they’re comedians but first and foremost make it a real, fully dimensional people who are flawed and and in all the ways just feel real. So I think that’s what the DNA of all the shows share to me.

Downs: I would say the same thing, that I do think all of the shows we made sure were funny first, and we wrote jokes for those shows. But having two characters who are comedians meant that we were able to do something I hope that’s even more grounded, like Jen said, and more realistic, because we have characters whose mechanism is to tell jokes. So we were able to do the hard funny, but also do some really heartfelt and more emotional stuff, because that is to us what life is — you know, you make a joke when you’re at a funeral sometimes because you just want to cut the tension. So I do think that’s the biggest difference. And the biggest growing up we’ve done is to say, oh, the show is going to never be too broad and never be too melodramatic. It’s going to be as true to life is we can make it.

How much input did Hannah Einbinder have in the direction Ava’s character went?

Aniello: We wrote the season before we cast her. We wrote the entire season just for COVID reasons… sometimes you’ll be writing and casting at the same time but we didn’t do a pilot. Jean we had cast already and towards the end of the writing we cast Hannah. But I would say in terms of her zoom-lennial/millenial, whatever that is, point of view there’s little moments where she would add things. Like the vaping in the scene with Jimmy, that was all Hannah bringing that in. She was like, (Ava) would Juul, and I have a Juul because I’m that age. And that scene where she has the vase over her head and says “f— you, Lemony Snicket,” that’s true that she added that. There’s definitely little shades of things that somebody who really is 25 is going to bring to the character but a lot of that was added oftentimes on the day by Hannah.

Was any of “Hacks” ad-libbed by the actors, versus scripted?

Downs: Jean comes from theater, and, obviously film and television also, so she’s someone who very much honors the script and doesn’t do a ton. Sometimes she will, and when she does it’s always fantastic. But we can name the handful of times that happened for Jean or Hannah in the whole season. Meg Stalter (Kayla) is one person who we wrote the character with her sort of in mind, and then we do let her pop off because that’s very much her background. But other than moments like that, and even in moments like that, because we wrote, again, the show before she was even cast, a lot of it had to be done kind of beforehand. And also in this COVID world, we don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to just play around. It’s kind of like we have to get the scene and so it’s more tightly written than improvised, to be honest.

Aniello: Every once in a while, a couple lines, the lines will make it through. Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Marcus) had had a couple that that ended up in there, as well as Johnny Sibilly (Wilson the water cop).

Downs: Jean did say the cockroach in my salad (bit) during the pilot, she yelled that as she was walking away, that was all her.

How as showrunners did you balance working with a diverse cast and making sure jokes about sexuality, etc., were genuinely funny and didn’t come off as punching down?

Downs: I think one way we did that was we wanted the writers room to reflect the characters we had onscreen. And we wanted to make sure that we had a lot of different points of view in that room — whether that be orientation, or race or even age — we had a consulting producer, Janice Hirsch, who is closer to Jean’s age than ours. So that was a real focus for us. I didn’t work on “Parks and Rec” or “The Good Place” (but) I’ll say that that was one of the things that was always a goal of ours in “Broad City” also was while we wanted it to be funny first, we wanted to show dynamic, multidimensional characters that were real and based on people that we knew and experiences that we all had, and that push culture forward. Because if if we have this incredible opportunity and platform to do something on TV, where people can see it and see themselves, why wouldn’t we do that? So as much as it is a comedy first and it’s a story we want to tell, we want to make sure that it is impactful and has meaning to anybody watching.

Aniello: And to normalize queer, BIPOC stories in a way that wasn’t about the coming-out moment, or trauma. And so for us, that’s also real to our life, to our world where our queer BIPOC friends are dealing with dating and dealing with love and life and work, and joy and all that. I mean, it is about representation, but it’s also about truth. And for us, we’re just so lucky, at least the three of us to live in a world where our queer friends are flourishing. And that’s such a cool thing to get to represent.

Season 1 of “Hacks” is streaming now on HBO Max.


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