Hacks-Season 2

It’s got a tone problem. As in whipsawing from believable to farce so two-dimensional you want to shut the damn program down.

But Jean Smart is so GOOD!

How did we get here? Replicating the old TV model with the new?

In case you’ve been under a rock, it appears that all streaming video outlets are now going to have free or discounted advertising tiers.

So what exactly is different about today’s paradigm from that of yesteryear, the one that has dominated for decades?

On demand. You can watch what you want when you want.

Only you can’t. You’re at the mercy of the outlets dripping out episodes to “build buzz” and to keep you from canceling. What of this reminds you of the modern world? NOTHING!

I mean we already have HBO. And Showtime and Starz and…

If you pay for them, you can watch them live on the flat screen, or on demand via your cable system, or via an app.

Arguably, the average customer is going to pay just as much and end up with less. I mean at least if you paid for the cable bundle you got network, with its local news, and scores of basic cable channels which will disappear without the cable system subsidy/payment. This is progress, ending up with less?

As for the bump in product…expect that to taper off as the players are solidified. Same as it ever was. Or meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Talking Heads or the Who, whichever you prefer, or both. Then again, they ruled in an era where many music fans didn’t even have a TV, or if they did didn’t turn it on. Today all the action is on the flat screen. As for the live show…I know people want to go, but the experience is different, it used to be exclusive, you had to go to know, now they’re just mass gatherings of people who want to shoot photos and say they were there.

So it all comes down to “House of Cards.” The first original Netflix series, which was better than anything else being televised. It drew fans, caused word of mouth, added subscriptions.

And in truth HOC took a couple of years to have complete traction. Just like the “Sopranos.” There’s so much in the channel, it’s hard to gain notice. So if you’re dripping out new shows week by week you’re actually losing instead of winning. Most people don’t know and don’t care, word of mouth on everything but hard news (well, soft news occasionally too), takes eons to spread. The best example here being “Breaking Bad,” which was on AMC for seasons but didn’t burgeon until people could binge it on Netflix. Binge, that’s the appropriate word. I mean come on, your mother buys half a gallon of ice cream and she tells you you can only have two spoonfuls a day. What! You know as well as I do that when it comes to ice cream and potato chips they truly only satisfy when you can eat them to excess. When you’re the one making the decision, when you’re the only one establishing limits, if any at all. I must say one of the things in life I enjoy most is sitting in the dark watching streaming television, being taken away. This is wholly different from reality/game shows, this is about narrative, a whole world, and when the mood is broken because I run out of episodes I’m pissed!

So the “backward” music business figured this out. You can get all the music for one low monthly price. And Spotify has a free tier, but that’s to combat piracy. Piracy is less of an issue in visual entertainment, if for no other reason than the files are bigger. But if you release all the episodes at once…it’s easier to just pay up than steal. Which is the Spotify game. Remember when all the insiders said no one would ever pay for music? What a laugh that turned out to be.

So the whole agency side of “Hacks” sucks. I literally turned off the first episode, it was too long a jump from the drama I’d been watching. But when Jean Smart does her thing…

You’re never quite sure exactly what she’s going to say.

Ever been around rich or famous people (or both?). There’s an inherent pecking order, even if each individual is paying their own freight, the rich/famous person dominates, is in charge, even if they say nothing! You play by their rules. You don’t go against them. Which is why you always hear about these same people being out of touch because they’re surrounded by yes people.

So, Jean Smart as Deborah Vance is the rich and famous person here. Her star may have faded, but she still drives that Rolls Royce with the suicide doors. Yes, if you’re rich and famous you’ve got to act the part, you’ve got to live in the right place, drive the latest car and tip well at the best establishments. It’s your image! Especially if you’re an oldster.

So everybody’s afraid of her. But you never know when she’ll step down from her pedestal to your level and speak the truth. When she’s in the aforementioned electric blue Rolls and tells Hannah Einbinder/Ava the score, when she zeroes in on Ava’s personality, WHEW!

You’d be surprised how many rich and famous people are smart, at least street smart, because it’s a long way to the top, no matter how much you wanna rock and roll. You’re privy to all the lessons the public never sees, what happens on the other side of the curtain, the business. And believe me, it’s cutthroat.

As for Hannah Einbinder/Ava, she’s noticeably better this year. Because she’s grown into the role. She’s actually aged a bit, which makes her more believable. The fact that she was a writer with experience in the previous season? I didn’t buy it.

But even Hannah/Ava slips into two-dimensionality. When she’s constantly worried about that e-mail surfacing. I wish the broad comedy were excised, there’s enough real material without all the tropes, the gay assistant, the agency underling who has the hots for Jimmy who is played so broadly that you wince every time she talks, not at her so much as at the writers, what were they thinking, that we were going to buy this?

And in the second episode there’s a scene with Polly Draper.

You’ll recognize her, it may take a while for you to place her, she was Ellyn Warren on “thirtysomething.” But that was over thirty five years ago, and Polly Draper is 66 AND HAS HAD NO PLASTIC SURGERY!

Movie stars do not age, and at this point neither do musicians. Not only women, but men. Speaking of which, when you see Wayne Newton in this show you’re only reminded of one thing, that “Twilight Zone” episode “In the Eye of the Beholder,” you know, the one with the doctors and nurses with the faces? Newton is the greatest advertisement for stopping plastic surgery extant. Other than the cat lady. But at this point Newton is just as bad. But Draper?

Draper looks like a real person. Much better-looking than the average person, but she’s believable.

As for Jean Smart…she’s got lines in her face too.

As do I. It goes with the territory. You can keep telling yourself you have the mind and skin of a thirty year old, but inside your body knows different. Nobody here gets out alive and when we see people acting years younger than their age, we wince.

So what you’ve got here is an adult comedy. Except when it’s at the level of a cartoon, the kind of stuff a five or six year old would appreciate. Shows can grow over time, can’t this show be adjusted?

Well, it’s too late now, I’m sure all the episodes are in the can. But these shows have a long lead time, when you see them they’re already planning the following season.

So will what I wrote above get you to watch “Hacks”?

Not the second season. Either you’re a fan or you’re not. Either you watched the first season or you didn’t. If you did, you give the first two episodes of the second season the benefit of the doubt. But if you start there…you’re probably not gonna get it. But you could binge the first season and get it completely. That’s what happened with “Breaking Bad”!

How did we get here?

If you don’t give the people what they want in tech, you’re superseded. You have to be constantly innovating or you’re left behind. Although oldsters haven’t stopped bitching, one thing is for sure, the music industry has cut ties with the past. Sure, labels may still be focused on terrestrial radio, but the public isn’t. Hell, the public moved to TikTok and now the labels have too.

But in TV?

The suits think they’re still in control. That it can go their way.

And to see how Netflix has reacted to Wall Street’s reaction to their numbers…makes me want to puke.

Let me see… You had a business plan, you believed in it, but Wall Street soured on you and you listened to investors? This is like sports teams turning over the coaching to the fans. Sure, they foot the bill, but they’re not professionals, they’re not in the locker room, it’s all surface, and of the moment. They want it all and they want it now, and that’s no way to run a business.

People want the content that bad, but the minute they have an option… This is what happened with Napster, the industry was cruising on overpriced CDs and then…

We’re sick of the gatekeepers telling us how to consume our content. We want to be in control. Isn’t that the message of the online world, have it your way?

But not in the TV world, because these people think they’re better than us.

But after two plus decades online we know that is patently untrue. They’re delusional.

I’m frustrated. And like John Lennon sang, I’m not the only one.

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