Granger on Film: 'Hacks' is an engaging watch on HBO

Jean Smart (left) plays a Las Vegas stand-up comic forced to work with a young writer played by Hannah Einbinder on HBO Max's comedy, "Hacks." (Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max/TNS)

Jean Smart (left) plays a Las Vegas stand-up comic forced to work with a young writer played by Hannah Einbinder on HBO Max's comedy, "Hacks." (Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max/TNS)

Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max / TNS

While “Ted Lasso” seems like a shoo-in, along with Jason Sudeikis, veteran actress Jean Smart might well walk off with the Lead Actress Comedy Award for “Hacks” at next Sunday’s Emmy Awards.

Smart plays Deborah Vance, a legendary stand-up comedienne who is struggling to retain her Las Vegas residency. Much to her dismay, the casino CEO (Christopher McDonald) tells her that she has to work with Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), a 25 year-old Los Angeles TV comedy writer with a very different approach to crafting humor.

The half-hour series begins with Ava’s initial resistance to working for volatile Deborah — it’s classic ‘zoomer vs. boomer.’ The plot then proceeds through her arrival at Deborah’s extravagant French chateau to embark on an assignment to view and organize the Vance archives, during which she develops respect for the courage and sacrifice that propelled her boss to the top of her game.

Rounding out the cast, there’s Deborah’s rebellious, in-recovery daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson), her protective personal assistant Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and personal blackjack dealer Kiki (Poppy Liu). Co-writer Paul W. Downs doubles as Deborah and Ava’s harried agent Jimmy.

Cleverly created by Lucia Aniello, Downs and Jen Statsky — who previously collaborated on “Broad City” — it’s about growing old and staying relevant, riffing on ego, success, failure and forgiveness. Eight of the 10 episodes are directed by women, primarily high-energy series co-creator Lucia Aniello, who skillfully combines sitcom sensibility with contemporary drama.

The ferocious character of Deborah Vance evokes memories of Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. Smart notes: “I wanted her to be a unique creation. I would never try to do an impression of anybody. It’s got to be something that sort of comes from me. Otherwise, I don’t think it would ring true.”

FYI: Newcomer Hannah Einbinder is the youngest daughter of original “Saturday Night Live” comedienne Laraine Newman and actor Chad Einbinder.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hacks” is an engaging 8, streaming on HBO Max.

Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.