Ava is a young, up-and-coming comedian who derails her own career after a misguided tweet about a conservative senator gets her dropped from her hit TV show writing gig.
Deborah Vance is an established comic and seasoned Vegas star on the verge of being pushed out of the casino she has performed at for decades to make room for younger acts.
Ava (Hannah Einbinder) needs a job and Deborah (Jean Smart) needs to keep hers. The solution comes in the form of Jimmy, their mutual agent, who sets them up, against each other’s wishes, so Ava can help Deborah write new material in the hope of reaching a wider audience.
Ava is hired despite a disastrous first encounter, and a love-hate relationship blossoms between the two, their preferred mode of communication being coming up with elaborate ways to heckle one another. It eventually becomes clear they can learn from each other.
What drives the plot is the inescapable generational and cultural conflict between the two characters, a boomer and a millennial. While Ava’s unique brand of humour betrays her generation’s tendency to overshare, Deborah keeps her feelings to herself to maintain the image she’s spent over 30 years cultivating.
There are very few comedies about comedy, and the ones out there (see: Seinfeld) barely pass the Bechdel test (which requires at least two women to have a conversation about something other than a man). This HBO show is clever, compassionate, and sometimes even sad, subtly – and sometimes more overtly – calling out the comedy industry’s sexist undercurrents.
“Good is the minimum, it’s the baseline! And even if you’re great, you still have to work really fucking hard,” Deborah says when Ava complains about how hard comedy is.
“You have to scratch and claw and it never fucking ends. And it doesn’t get better, it just gets harder”.