TV

How “Hacks” Hit the High Seas on a Lesbian Cruise

Co-writers Ariel Karlin and Pat Regan discuss the standout Season 2 episode.

Spoilers ahead for Hacks Season 2.

This season of Hacks went where very few television shows have gone before… a lesbian cruise.

In the latest episode, “The Captain’s Wife,” legendary comic Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) thinks she is performing a show for a boat full of gay men — until Margaret Cho delivers the news to her that it’s actually a cruise for queer women. Cue the fog horn. While a ship full of queer women sounds like a great time, Deborah is dreading the high sea adventure.

“When we [the Hacks showrunners and writing staff] came in and started, we knew we wanted to do something where Deborah’s down and she wants to win,” episode co-writer Pat Regan tells Logo when asked where the idea for a lesbian cruise came from. “And so they had this idea where accidentally, she gets placed on a lesbian cruise when… that’s not quite her fan base. I’m not sure exactly how they figured it out, but they knew they wanted to do that.”

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Ariel Karlin, who co-wrote the episode with Regan, reveals that the idea might have been “bouncing around” among the writers even before Season 2: “Deborah is this comedian who tells a lot of jokes about lesbian stereotypes, she makes fun of queer women in her act and she also has a lot of fans who are gay men,” Karlin explains. “I think that’s definitely true for other comedians, real comedians of Deborah’s generation and comedy style too and it was something we were really interested in and also it sounded potentially funny.”

Even though Deborah being on a gay cruise would present its own set of funny circumstances, Regan assures Logo that “it was always going to be lesbians,” and that the situation would let Ava (Hannah Einbinder) talk about her sexuality with Deborah:

“I think it also provided this opportunity for Ava to talk about her sexuality in a way that was interesting in a way I hadn’t really seen on TV,” says Regan. “It’s always interesting when they can have those sort of intergenerational conversations around what Deborah’s understanding of certain things are and what Ava’s understanding of certain things are and how they could kind of be similar and different around those topics.”

“I remember going in, was we wanted it to be this thing of regardless of what Deborah’s sexuality actually is, she lived in this time when you couldn’t really think about it,” Regan continues. “You couldn’t really examine it. If you were mostly straight then let’s just go with that. That was kind of the vibe. And whereas now we’re in a place where there is more fluidity to it, in a way that almost has moved past this ’Born This Way’ saying. I think we wanted it to be a conversation that felt very intimate between those two women. And we wanted it to be something where we’re not saying, it’s not like Deborah realizing she’s gay, but maybe just realizing she hasn’t had quite the same opportunities as Ava did growing up to actually think about it.”

A standout scene from “The Captain’s Wife” took place at the piano bar where Deborah leads a room full of women in a rousing rendition of “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” The Carole King classic was ultimately used, but Karlin reveals that other songs by Brandi Carlile, Janet Jackson, and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” were also bounced around as potential numbers.

Karen Ballard/HBO Max

Deborah might have been feeling her fantasy while singing, the high only lasts until she bombs during her cringeworthy standup set later.

“I was just thinking about when you think you’re going to be doing material for one crowd and then you find out it’s a very different crowd and it’s very intimidating,” Regan, who is a comedian and co-host of the Seek Treatment podcast, explains. “We wanted to be careful of making it seem like this was kind of a Deborah thing and Deborah’s kind of the weirdo here and not like the people on the cruise who are essentially just normal, nice women who are trying to enjoy their time. So that was a balance.”

Deborah and Ava eventually end up getting kicked off the ship, with Ava “rolling on Molly” as the two take a dinghy back to land, all while a k.d. Lang dance remix plays. A lot happens in the 35-minute-long episode, but was anything left out of the final version?

“I remember there was a scene where Ava was meeting the hot couple at a pool party, but Ava cannot swim. So she was trying to flirt with them in a pool despite needing lots of flotation paraphernalia and trying to play it as though she could swim, but also trying to be flirty, but also clinging to the side,” Regan reveals.

“I do think would’ve been funny to see Ava splashing around in the pool,” Karlin adds.

Even though Karlin and Regan weren’t on set, Karlin says that the finished episode looked beautiful thanks in part to Lucia Aniello’s directing: “Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart always add so much comedy in their performance on top of or in addition to what’s written there. And you get to see Jean Smart sing, which we knew in the script that she was going to sing and, of course, you imagine Jean Smart singing and think, Oh, this will be great, but it was really amazing to get to watch that.”

Hacks is streaming on HBO Max.
 

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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