Review | Can depression get playful? ‘Lucky Hank’ says yes.


What is true of campus novels is also true of campus shows: they are not for everyone. But “Lucky Hank,” AMC’s new series airing Sunday, is a delightful and sometimes brilliant addition to the genre I love.

Bob Odenkirk plays William Henry Devereux Jr. (aka Hank), a creative writing professor at a fictional liberal arts college whose life is objectively pretty good. His wife, Lily (a scene-stealing Marilee Enos), is a sharp, empathetic genius at conflict resolution at home and as a high school administrator. Hank has a tenured job, lives in a stunningly beautiful house, and while his daughter is a bit manipulative and has a partner with bad taste, it could all be a lot worse.

What the show really nails about academia is exact way to All this is not enough: Hank has only ever published one novel – a failure by academic standards – and his resentment against his father, a famous literary scholar who abandoned him when he was 14 , his education, his department and his life.

For the most part, the drama shines thanks to solid acting, perfect casting and a keen eye for satirical academia, even if it can sometimes feel like an essay without a thesis. It’s hard to tell what the show is. in regards tobut, oddly enough, it turns out to be a strength.

The pilot begins with a distraught Hank trying to ignore the fact that he learns his father is retiring via a celebratory newspaper article on the front page of the arts section. He is moody and disengaged in class, “leading” a workshop while contemplating lunch. When a self-styled young windbag named Bartow (played to perfection by Jackson Kelly) rather reasonably asks Hank to say something – anything – the latter gives Bartow’s writing a harsh but accurate send-up. begins and accuses it (and the student population, and the college) of mediocrity. Of course, his statement is on record. This sparks a small and amusing scandal but canceling culture is, thankfully, not the theme of the series.

In fact, it’s hard to say (based on the two episodes received out of a total of eight) what the series is about. This is not a bad thing. The show actually benefits from refusing to center a particular theme or crisis beyond vague, mid-life discontent in search of a cause. (Hank is just as crabby when he thinks he’s going to be a grandfather as he is when he realizes he’s actually not.)

You could say that “Lucky Hank” is about the English faculty that Hank half-heartedly presides over, even though it’s only one-third the job. The casting is great. Shannon DeVedo and Suzanne Currier are particularly good – Currier plays Gracie, and if her character sometimes strays into parody (her book of sonnets on Jonathan Swift has become gave standard in early 18th-century feminist counterpoetry”), her performance, her carriage and even her pronunciation all feel surprisingly accurate to type. DeVido’s Emma Wheemer—a jaded professor who Suffers from neglecting people she admires and regrets it – feels like people I actually know.

It’s also about Hank’s family (sort of). And writer’s block (of sorts). He insists to his wife that his anger in class inspired him to work on his novel. “Oh! Great! Well, I love it when you start another novel,” she replies, deadpan. “It’s usually a wonderful time in our marriage.”

It’s also about professional jealousy. In the second episode, Hank’s highly successful colleague “George Saunders” (the writer is played by Brian Huskey) visits the college. And the show is two ticks better when it comes to scenarios like the “Cancel Culture” scandal above: Bartow, the student who criticizes Hank, may be insufferable, but he’s right: Hank Is A bad teacher. (Saunders is a great one, and Barto naturally loves him.)

Above are the good parts. Really Well, so good that it’s easy to overlook the less successful aspects of the show. Like the voiceover, which is completely weird — most of its “thoughts” are common sense about society, more akin to blog posts or bad stand-up comedy than what real people think or feel in private. can do (It feels like there are imports from Richard Russo’s novel “Streetman,” on which the series is based, but Russo is funnier than Hank.) Hank’s friendship with Tony (Diedrich Bader), kind of I expected. Hating that ranty voice-over guy is oddly passive.

And, as a send-up of the Academy, some things aren’t quite right. A small non-spoiler example: In his “non-political crank” mode, Hank jokes about receiving (small) royalties from his partner Gracie’s self-published book of sonnets. The problem is not cynicism. It’s that Gracie’s book has no way of being self-published (there are a lot of small presses) and, more importantly, that no academic in the world will consider his book. Not being profitable a blister.

What the show gets right, on the contrary, is that no one in their right mind actually wants to be a department head!

The series’ spontaneity — which teeters between parodic edge and epiphany — may be a function of its distinctive DNA. “The Straight Man” was published in 1997. Very Different Time at the Academy and while the show is headed by “The Killing” co-showrunners Aaron Zelman and “The Office” Paul Lieberstein, the pilot is directed by Peter Farrelly. (Yes, that Peter Farrelly. He also executive produces.)

Specifically, of course, it features the actor best known — in drama, anyway — for playing Saul Goodman in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” It’s fun to watch Odenkirk, who excels in the character’s sadistic patterns, dealing with literary criticism and stern, resentful reverence. I couldn’t imagine him as an academic but he’s good enough, and playing men wounded by their male relatives — for the guy who made Jimmy McGill in Saul — is child’s play. That said, his performance is strongest when he lets a little tenderness shine through. Odenkirk just isn’t entirely convincing as a snob, and every time the show portrays him as explosive or even woundingly sarcastic, I think of that episode of “Seinfeld.” Where Jerry tries to prove to a girlfriend that he really can do go crazy

“Lucky Hank” works because many of its characters feel real despite the antagonistic setup and contrived voiceover. Mirelle Enos and Odenkirk’s every scene together is perfect. And if the show sometimes feels like a student essay without a thesis, that’s not a criticism. This Probably Actually getting into some more fun experimental tricks, though it’s hard to confirm that in two episodes. What I mean is this: When Bartow challenges Hank to actually critique his story in the pilot instead of zoning out, he does so—with scathing precision, pointing out that the young writer The desire to describe the thoughts of your characters in a garbled manner is inconsistent and inconsistent with reality.

What is happening in the scene, of course, creates a kind of meta-commentary on itself. Because we hear Hank’s thoughts in voiceover as the student reads aloud. He is not listening to the story. He is thinking about food.

Or so we think! The revelation is that Hank was Somehow, everything is heard. When pressed, he has a perfect mastery of what a story says and why, even at the sentence level, it doesn’t work. The muffled sound we were hearing wasn’t just uninspired. It was a lie to the extent that we thought it reflected Hank’s thoughts in that moment.

It’s either sloppy or brilliant. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.

Lucky Hank (eight episodes) premieres Sundays on AMC. New episodes air weekly.

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