“Hacks” returns for a second season, streaming on HBO Max. Jean Smart, who has been great in so many roles, from “Designing Women” and “Frasier” to “24,” “Fargo” and “Mare of Easttown,” plays Deborah Vance, a Las Vegas-based comedienne of a certain age whose “legendary” act has grown stale.
When Marty (Christopher McDonald), the CEO of the casino where she performs, suggests she downsize her venue, Deborah makes some changes, including hiring Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young self-involved comedy writer recently exiled from Los Angeles for an insensitive tweet.
“Hacks” contrasts Deborah’s mansion lifestyle with Ava’s millennial striving as well as making the most of generational takes on “funny.” In many ways, “Hacks” offers a peculiar bookend to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” examining the career decline of a brash, outspoken comedy pioneer. Both shows seem loosely based on the career trajectory of Joan Rivers.
If TV series must pass audiences’ “why should I care” test, “Hacks” offers an exhaustive compendium of the uninteresting. Writers discussing the “craft” of comedy and breaking down jokes has all the charm of an autopsy table. Ava’s narcissism doesn’t just grate on Deborah. And if there’s anything more cliche than a Vegas mansion, it’s a parody of one.
At the same time, “Hacks” seems to embrace the ephemeral tawdriness of its Las Vegas setting. As the second season begins, Deborah and Ava prepare to leave the casino and take the act on the road. And this departure makes Deborah realize as dreadful and third-rate as Vegas can seem, it was the only city that loved her back. She comes to that conclusion only after a chat with a real — but seemingly animatronic — Wayne Newton at an ultimate fighting event.
In a clever twist, Deborah’s malaise is deepened when she discovers Marty’s new girlfriend isn’t some young thing, but a woman of his own age. Nothing makes her feel older than the fact she can’t compete on that level.
Season two will introduce the audaciously low-key performer Martha Kelly (“Baskets”) as a human resources manager refereeing the pettiest squabbles imaginable. A role she was born to play.
• Netflix imports the six-episode South African melodrama “Savage Beauty,” about a mystery woman who insinuates herself into a family controlling a global cosmetics empire.
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• The parents of a transgender teen become embroiled in domestic violence on “Station 19” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
• An exhausted EMT (Nicolas Cage) mentally unravels in the 1999 drama “Bringing Out the Dead” (7 p.m., Cinemax), directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. Look for Aida Turturro, cast here as a nurse, shortly before joining “The Sopranos” as Tony’s sister, Janice.
• A former patient returns as his wife gives birth on “Grey’s Anatomy” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
• A fateful phone call on “Big Sky” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
• “Atlanta” (9 p.m., FX, TV-MA) unfolds in black and white.
A literature professor (James Caan) takes his betting addiction to Las Vegas in the 1974 drama “The Gambler” (9 p.m., TMC), co-starring Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton.
Chastised by the congregation on “Young Sheldon” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) … A socialite’s murder leaves murky evidence on “Law & Order” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14) … “MasterChef: Junior Edition” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) … Back to the ranch on “Walker” (7 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG) … Al plays hooky on “United States of Al” (7:30 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) … On two frames of “How We Roll” (CBS, TV-14): Archie’s got something to hide (8 p.m.); a fallen idol (8:30 p.m.) … Evidence remains confined to the confessional on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) … Father Joe’s reunion on an hourlong episode of “Welcome to Flatch” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Alaric needs guidance on “Legacies” (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG) … A bout of amnesia on “Bull” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … Stabler faces grave danger on “Law & Order: Organized Crime” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
Jake Tapper and Beach House are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Post Malone, Howie Mandel and Arcade Fire on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) … Jerrod Carmichael, James Hong and the Black Keys appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (10:35 p.m., ABC) … Amy Sedaris, Michael R. Jackson, the cast of “A Strange Loop” and Derrick Wright visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC) … Niecy Nash and Smashing Pumpkins appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (11:37 p.m., CBS).
— OK, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.
This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.
Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.
There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And got the girl, to boot.
So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.
If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedic. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.
— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.
— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).
— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; a visit to Monaco.
— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
— A new trial is pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).
— Axe is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) profiles the Jets.
— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 p.m. Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).
“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC) … The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) … Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 p.m.), fighting over a dowager (8:30 p.m., r) … Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).