“HACKS” A DISCERNING COMEDY; “MIKE TYSON” THROWS PUNCHES
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“HACKS” ON HBO MAX
Remembering the late comedian Joan Rivers, known for an acerbic persona and self-deprecating humor, might be best option for understanding the modus operandi of Jean Smart’s aging comic Deborah Vance in the HBO Max series “Hacks.” In this ten-episode series, Deborah has thrived in a long career as a headliner in Las Vegas, the main draw at the Palmetto Casino where smug owner Marty (Christopher McDonald) now decides to give her coveted weekend nights to a youth-oriented pop group.Softening the blow to her ego for losing the prime spot, the casino boss tells Deborah that Las Vegas will be designating a street in her name, to which she replies that it will “probably be a dead-end with an abortion clinic on it.”
A savvy businesswoman, Deborah, who once was the first female host of a late night TV show much like Joan Rivers, shares other similarities beyond stand-up routines, such as hawking merchandise on the QVC shopping channel. Deborah even shills for a pizzeria chain at a grand opening. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, millennial comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) may also be facing the sunset of a once budding career when she gets “cancelled” for a joke tweet about the hypocrisy of a closeted senator.Feeling entitled like so many of her peers, the self-absorbed Ava embarks on self-destructive behavior that includes an awkward intrusion into a former colleague’s lunch meeting to ask for work and a later gratuitous hookup with a delivery man.Ava shares the same agent Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) with the Vegas diva, and he comes up with the bright idea to send his young client on a trip to Sin City for a meeting with Deborah, which doesn’t go well at all.And yet, after barbs and insults are hurled between two comedians with an obvious generational gap, Deborah comes to realize in a moment of pragmatism that some tired old material might need a jolt of new energy.Thus, with Ava taking up residency at a casino, the two disparate comedians on the opposite ends of a work ethic (Deborah had to fight to reach the pinnacle of success, while Ava feels the reward should come easy) embark on a rollercoaster journey.
Above all else, “Hacks,” an insightful comedy with biting sarcasm and a touch of humanity, is a showcase for the talents of its leading ladies, with Jean Smart especially shining more brightly than the Vegas neon.
“MIKE TYSON: THE KNOCKOUT” ON ABC
What do we know about former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson that might draw our interest to a four-hour documentary series over two nights in “Mike Tyson: The Knockout,” scheduled for May 25 and June 1 on ABC? For one, you wouldn’t want to get in the ring with him, even now at his ripe middle age. We may learn how this ferocious fighter who won his first 19 professional fights by knockout acquired the reputation of “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” We may remember many things that cast an unfavorable light on his character, including a nasty split with Robin Givens with an allegation of spousal abuse, a conviction of rape resulting in a prison stint, and biting off a piece of boxer Evander Holyfield’s ear.The first episode begins with Tyson’s youth and his transition from a bullied kid who discovers his true power, which becomes the basis for the icon’s standing for knockout power and intimidation of opponents.
Former trainers describe Tyson’s time in and out of juvenile detention during the time legendary trainer Cus D’Amato guided the young boy from Brooklyn to the edge of his boxing dream of heavyweight champion of the world.Erstwhile opponents Michael Spinks and Buster Douglas sit down for interviews and discuss their fights against Tyson, including Tyson’s win over Sparks to become the undisputed champion and Tyson’s shocking first professional loss to Douglas who was a 42-to-1 underdog.The second episode continues with Tyson’s conviction and prison sentence for raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington, reviewing the cultural conversation that ensued throughout the trial as the public grappled with ideas of victimization and the fall of a hero.
Tyson’s defense attorney James Voyles and special prosecutor Greg Garrison reflect on the trial nearly 20 years later. Tyson’s release from prison and his highly anticipated and celebrated re-entry into society are examined.“Mike Tyson: The Knockout” puts viewers ringside for a main event that chronicles the former champion’s climb, crash and comeback, and an ABC press release touts that this primetime event “will examine some of the most pressing questions about resilience and reinvention.”
Executive producer Geoffrey Fletcher claims that “in addition to being an inspiring story of the perseverance and hard-won growth of one extraordinary person, Mike Tyson’s life and career are also relevant to the important collective self-reflection finally occurring in America.”A bit of puffery may seep into the production team’s assessment of this documentary’s import, and so any final judgment must rest until we see for ourselves.