There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, UnBinged is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate.
The allure of fame, fortune and fandom provides an engaging backdrop for clever comedies, daring dramas, and combinations of both. In this batch of UnBinged reviews, we take a look at Hacks, Flack, and Dave, three TV offerings that tear apart the fancy facade of the entertainment business to uncover its dark dilemmas and darker humor. Sit back. Relax. And let us entertain you with a few thoughts on what will entertain you.
Hacks (Season 1) / HBO Max
Trading in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for the sequins and sparkles of Vegas, HBO Max’s Hacks takes a different approach to exposing the fickle nature of stardom, tackling ageism, sexism, feminism, and all the -isms in between.
We first meet millennial scribe Ava (Hannah Einbinder), whose ill-timed tweets and gimme-gimme attitude has left her both without friends or jobs. After becoming a casualty of cancel culture, Ava is tricked by her manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) into taking a writing gig for Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a legendary comedienne who has spent the better part of three decades rehashing old jokes on the Vegas Strip.
Upon meeting, they immediately resent each other. Ava feels writing for an old fogey is beneath her, while Deborah sees Ava as an albatross pushed upon her by men who think she is out of touch. Much of the drama and entertainment from Hacks comes from the yin and yang of its two leads. But is the chemistry enough to keep audiences engaged?
While not the kind of comedy that will have you gasping for air, Hacks is a deftly played volley between the two women, exploring the Hollywood age bias to create drama and tension while taking aim at the problems that plague the comedy world in general. Jean Smart’s turn as the tenacious Vance is particularly brilliant and worthy of her recent Emmy nomination for Best Actress (the show scored 15 nominations total this week, including a nod for Einbinder as well).
Striving to remain relevant in an industry known for turning its back on female performers once they reach a certain age or become too mouthy, these two comedic masterminds soon realize that they need each other. They even form a friendship (sorta). In the end, Hacks is a terrific comedy about two forces of nature who are fighting on the same side, even if they don’t quite realize it yet. But beyond the battles behind the stage, at its core the show is about friendship and trust, two rare gifts in showbiz.
Flack (Season 2) / Amazon Prime
Taking a peek behind the curtain to unveil the vile nature of celebrity culture, Flack is about those who would sell their soul to Satan for a trending hashtag for their clients. Yes, we’re talking publicists.
In this bitingly comedic drama the PR biz that both promotes and protects celebrities is depicted as a necessary evil, and its main minion is Robyn (played to perfection by Anna Paquin). A femme fatale Don Draper-type in a pencil skirt, Robyn is a narcissistic sex and drug addict who makes the most of an industry that allows her to flourish through bad habits.
Every episode focuses on a familiar client fuck-up – from everyday adultery to fallout from transphobic rants and racist tweets. Robyn skillfully pulls back each client from the brink of catastrophe while she slowly annihilates her own life. Now in its second season, Robyn spirals as she hides from the damage she caused in the first season. As she hits rock bottom, we slowly get a bit of her backstory, including a family tragedy involving her mother (Martha Plimpton).
In addition to Paquin’s performance, the series benefits from a superb supporting cast who handily portray a group of empathy-deficient sociopaths needed to keep Hollywood running. Top turns include Robyn’s boss Caroline (the magnificent Sophie Okonedo), a shark in an Akris midi dress, and her best friend/co-conspirator Eve (Lydia Wilson), a barb-tongued PR vixen who offers enough stunning one-liners to warrant her own show.
Flack is about the sleazy underbelly of Hollywood, a karma-less town where bad people thrive and are eventually honored with a street sign, hospital wing or sidewalk star. This horrible truth(?) makes it a delicious dish of debauchery. The entertainment industry is an awful business filled with awful people who are protected by other awful people… and what’s more entertaining than that?
Dave (Season 2) / FXX & Hulu
A semi-autobiographical comedy created by Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd and Jeff Schaffer (Seinfeld), Dave is an insider’s look at the contemporary music industry and the notion of fame. Loosely based on Burd’s real experiences, the show explores the changing nature of making it, which often depends more on social media than talent to determine who is worthy of worship.
The first season saw rapper Dave rise to stardom thanks to a viral video which caused his professional life to blossom, but his personal life to tank. In the new season, Dave discovers it takes a lot of hard work to hold on to notoriety and find inspiration. Watching him fail again and again will prove equally difficult for his audience, however.
In season 1, we see that Dave is a schlep whose anxieties are matched only by his lyrical genius. Mixing the neurosis of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which Schaffer also worked on) with the industry B.S. of Entourage, the series blends lowbrow humor with a frank look at social issues to create a heartwarming underdog story. From his bipolar hypeman GaTa to his girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak), the would-be rap star was surrounded by people who just wanted him to succeed. Part of the charm of Dave was its innate sweetness.
In season 2 (which debuted last month and is currently rolling out weekly on FXX and Hulu) the compassion of the first season has been replaced with frustration and more cringe as Dave makes one bad decision after another. There are fewer moments showing off his lyrical skills and his softer side is absent since he broke up with his girlfriend. We get less of a Cinderella story and more of a stoned, asshole-ish stepsister. It’s difficult to cheer for him as an underdog as he wanders around his mansion hitting on groupies.
Dave is still a biting satire set within the music industry that depicts the many pitfalls of making it to the main stage at Coachella. But especially this season, it’s sometimes difficult to watch. The comic rapper is basically battling his inner saboteur. We all want him to reach his dreams, but so far, he’s not living up to the hype. Lil Dicky’s flow is fire, but we hope he doesn’t burn out before he can truly shine.