Friday, May 24, 2024

Review: Miss “Mrs. Maisel”? Jean Smart is Going to Win the Emmy for Playing a Joan Rivers Type in “Hacks”


It’s actually possible Jean Smart is going to win two Emmy Awards this year. It’s been the best of times, I imagine, and the worst.

Once a star of “Designing Women,” Smart, who is 69, is having the best year of her career probably at the worst possible time. She’s in two hot shows on HBO, “Hacks” and “Mare of Easttown.” But when she was finishing shooting the former, her husband of 34 years, Richard Gilliland, died after a brief illness.

In “Mare of Easttown,” a runaway hit drama murder mystery. she plays Kate Winslet’s worn and wonderful mom. As Helen Fahey, Smart seems also warm and wise, which she is. But we learn some kinky stuff about her that gives Smart a chance to set herself apart in a cast of eccentrics who are all vying for the David Lynch Award.

Smart’s real breakout on HBO this spring just started last week. She’s the star of a potentially great comedy called “Hacks.” Her Deborah Vance is very Joan Rivers-based, a successful, wealthy stand up comedian who’s made her money in Las Vegas after failing at things like late night TV. Deborah lives there in a mansion, and rules her world. But when it looks like her act may be getting stale, she takes in a female comedy writer from Los Angeles who’s made some mistakes and can’t get work. That’s Hannah Einbinder, killing it in her debut. (She’s also the daughter of the great Laraine Newman, from the original cast of “Saturday Night Live.”)

I don’t where “Hacks” came from because the imdb is now unreadable and I have no press information on it. But three episodes in, it’s a box of chocolates. The creators have mixed together elements of Joan Rivers’ life with Midge Maisel’s, added a touch of “Veep,” and put it all in a Cuisinart. Looking at the “Maisel” aspect, Smart is playing Jane Lynch’s character as if she were Rivers and Einbinder is playing Midge. But it’s current, not nostalgic, and there’s just a pinch of sex, vulgarity, and bad language so you know it’s HBO.

“Hacks” is Jean Smart’s show, she’s the queen of this universe. While Helen Fahey is stripped down, no makeup or money, responsible for grandchildren, Deborah is the quantum opposite. She’s buying antique pepper shakers for $10,000, something Helen could not comprehend. Deborah is snarky and rude and over the top, so much fun to play. Helen has to keep her eye on the ball in her house to make all the tentative things around her don’t fall apart.

So, yes, HBO loves Emmy nominations and awards. But this should be a cake walk for them. Jean Smart is going to be the talk of the town this summer and fall. And boy, does she deserve it!


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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