THE PERFORMER | Jean Smart
THE SHOW | HBO Max’s Hacks
THE EPISODE | “I Think She Will” (June 10, 2021)
THE PERFORMANCE | It didn’t seem like Hacks‘ curmudgeonly comic Deborah Vance would ever play nice, let alone form a friendship with her quasi-pretentious new writer, Ava. But that’s what made the women’s brutal finale fight so gut-wrenching — and Smart’s performance so captivating.
In Episode 10, tensions simmered to a boil after Deborah discovered Ava lied to her about a job interview. Smart turned her character’s feelings of betrayal into nonchalance… at first. When Ava confronted the stand-up for bailing on the new material the duo had written for her final Vegas show (all of which focused on Deborah’s scandalous past), that’s when Smart unleashed. “You’re risking nothing… this is my life!” she screamed. “I don’t need to do a whole show dwelling on the past. I move forward,” she fired with conviction.
In a shocking turn of events, Ava called her boss a hack, causing Deborah to outright slap her. Smart then painted her expression with emotions ranging from sadness, regret and yes, anger, leaving us to wonder if the character would continue masking her hurt by rebuilding her tough exterior.
Despite the episode’s dramatic lean, Smart also exhibited a tenderness that tugged at our heartstrings. Deborah seemed almost demure when asking DJ if it was OK to discuss their personal life on stage. The actress rightly shifted her demeanor and tone, filling her eyes with love as she asked her daughter for permission. Later, when Deborah flew out to Ava’s father’s funeral, Smart delivered levity when Ava needed it the most, lobbing soft jokes to cheer up the mourning millennial, while also expressing heartfelt remorse for striking her. And we rooted hard for them to patch things up.
Considering that Deborah endured endless sexism and sabotage on her way to the top, it’s safe to say that the comedian is both conflicted and complicated. Yet Smart expertly navigated the character’s stubbornness and depth, peeling back her layers of defense to cut right to Deborah’s core. And we can’t wait to see her do it again.
HONORABLE MENTION | Mj Rodriguez has been the steadily beating heart of Pose‘s entire three-season run as endlessly supportive house mother Blanca, and this week’s series finale gave her a well-deserved chance to shine. She was fierce as Blanca fought for non-white AIDS patients to be included in an experimental drug trial, she was tender as Blanca said her final goodbye to her friend Pray Tell and took in a new generation of kids, and she was sensational in a showstopping duet with Blanca and Pray Tell triumphantly lip-syncing to a Diana Ross classic. As Blanca said, we may not all get a happy ending, but we do get “happy moments” — and the moments we got to spend watching Rodriguez play Blanca were happy ones indeed.
HONORABLE MENTION | With so much of Manifest‘s two-part finale revolving around young Cal’s mysterious fate, we needed to feel every bit of his parents’ trauma — and with the performances by Athena Karkanis and Josh Dallas, we surely did. When Cal vanished into thin air at Eureka, even though the Stones surely have seen it all by now, Karkanis went all in on Grace’s shock and despair, to the point that we shared the pit in her stomach. Likewise, when all that stood between Ben and maybe getting Cal back was a by-the-book Coast Guard captain, Dallas made a father’s impassioned pleas felt so real amid this surreal storyline. It’s hard to be relatable under extraordinary circumstances, but Karkanis and Dallas combined for quite the emotional one-two punch.
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!