Like The Chair, Lucky Hank satirizes pompous academics and their hapless protégés

Happy Hank ★★★½
Stan, starting Monday

Bob Odenkirk plays William Henry Hank Devereaux Jr., a literature professor at a college he calls

Bob Odenkirk plays William Henry Hank Devereaux Jr., a literature professor at a college he calls “the capital of mediocrity.”Credit:Sergei Bachlakov/AMC/Sony

William Henry “Hank” Devereaux Jr. is a literature professor whose response to his students asking for feedback on their work is “I don’t think so.” Graying, dissatisfied, and unable to begin his second novel, he argues that 80 percent of life is misery and refuses to work after 4 p.m.; The only letter he criticizes in class is an open letter from an offended student demanding his dismissal.

But Hank is played by Bob Odenkirk, the comedian whose raunchy performances in breaking Bad and then Better call Saul revealed complex layers of self-blame and painful missteps. His English professorship at an American college, which Hank unwisely tells his students is “the capital of mediocrity,” is a satirical protagonist who not only shows us the absurd flaws, but also the means to heal the deeper cracks understand. That he sometimes tries and mostly fails to make amends only adds to the horribly funny portrait.

Lucky Hank was adapted by Paul Lieberstein (The office) and Aaron Zelman (The killing) from Richard Russo’s 1997 midlife crisis novel heterosexual man. The struggles of empowered white men play out differently now, but as this troubled, inquiring black comedy views Hank’s world, including his increasingly suspicious wife Lily (Mireille Enos), and rebellious colleagues through a contemporary lens, the show feels almost timeless that Hank’s fight is so deeply rooted in himself.

Netflix’s 2021 smug campus comedy The chairwhere Sandra Oh’s misfit held a similar job as Hank covered some of what’s on offer here, but if you’ve got a penchant for academic satire Lucky Hank has a particularly fine tone – the junior professor, who speaks mainly in literary quotations, is a pompous pleasure. A college visit from a contemporary of Hank’s who’d found literary fame only deepens his self-imposed crisis, even as the episode gives him some welcome respite.

The back-and-forth in the first few episodes is succinct, but it also lays a solid foundation, especially with the shifting dynamic between Hank and Lily, who begins to wonder if she’s been spending too long indulgently with her husband. While introducing the supporting cast — Suzanne Cryer is particularly good as Hank’s ambitious understudy, Gracie DuBois — the show provides everything Hank needs to define himself. With Odenkirk in the lead, Hank’s resurrection or burst of flames could be just as rewarding.

Emily the criminal ★★★★

Aubrey Plaza at the premiere of Emily The Criminal.

Aubrey Plaza at the premiere of Emily The Criminal.Credit:Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

In comedies like Parks and Recreation, Aubrey Plaza had an unnerving silence that led to dead laughter – one wasn’t sure what to say, much to the delight of her characters. This independent feature film brings that same quality to dramatic, smoldering effect. An art grad on the wrong side of inequality, Plaza is a captivating young woman who finds her footing in the Los Angeles underworld. Like The Chair, Lucky Hank satirizes pompous academics and their hapless protégés

Jaclyn Diaz

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