What to Watch Verdict
Odenkirk continues to shine in his first TV role post Better Call Saul, but a razor-sharp script and a fun ensemble assist with promising start to the dark comedy.
Odenkirk is stellar once again
Scripts offer razor-sharp wit
A strong ensemble, headlined by Mireille Enos and Oscar Nunez
Some characters don't feel fully integrated into the story yet
For our money, Bob Odenkirk's portrayal as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul is one of the best performances this century (right up there with Bryan Cranston's Walter White). As a result, we had a weighted expectation to his TV follow up, Lucky Hank. But from what we've seen of this dark comedy, Odenkirk delivers yet again while the show itself is a hilarious, thematically-rich look into midlife malaise.
Lucky Hank is based on the book Straight Man by Richard Russo and follows William Henry "Hank" Deveraux Jr. (Odenkirk), a professor and head of the English department at Railton College in a small, rural Pennsylvania town. His frustration with his mediocre students, his warring co-workers and how his career has turned out results in his pessimistic and miserable demeanor, but some deep rooted issues prevent him from being able to effectively address these problems.
This all bubbles up in the opening minutes of the series, when Hank is goaded by his students into saying what he really thinks about their writing, which turns into a rant about the mediocrity that permeates them, the school and Hank himself. When one of the students records it and shares it with the school paper, it sets off a bit of a firestorm.
The rant brings back some memories of how Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom kick started its run, but rather than grandstanding about how America at large is not living up to its full potential, this inciting incident in Lucky Hank is an intimate look at a character who has reached a breaking point. And while he appears to be a miserable SOB unwilling to make the effort for his students, Odenkirk's performance and the sharp writing hooks us and gets us asking the question, how did this guy get like this?
Lucky Hank has no crime aspects to ratchet up the tension like in Better Call Saul, but this dive into Hank is enthralling for viewers and is reminiscent of the depth Odenkirk was able to get into with Jimmy/Saul as Lucky Hank explores ideas like unfulfilled potential, egotism, family and workplace dynamics and generational gaps.
Those character and emotional beats are surrounded by some laugh out loud witticisms brought out of Russo's original writing by The Office alum Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman (Law & Order, The Killing). Liberstein was quoted (opens in new tab) saying Lucky Hank was like The Office but with "smarter people," which definitely feels apt. But unlike Michael Scott and his charming buffoonery, many of the best moments in Lucky Hank come from snarky, stabbing side comments that are peppered in throughout.
While Hank definitely is the focus and Odenkirk more than meets that demand, a strong ensemble is there in support. There is a great chemistry between Odenkirk and Mireille Enos, who plays Hank's wife Lily, as her optimism counterbalances Hank's constant pessimism. There are also Hank's co-workers, highlighted by Suzanne Cryer as Gracie DuBois, Shannon DeVido as Emma Wheemer and Oscar Nuñez as Railton's dean.
If we have any nitpick from the early episodes it's that some of the ensemble don't feel as well integrated into the story just yet. While we don't need a full breakdown of who everyone is and their relationship to Hank, introductions for some are better handled than others — Diedrich Bader's Tony just shows up as Hank's best friend but we get almost no other context about him, while I don't know if we even got all of the names of the teachers in the English department. Hopefully all that will come together as the series progresses.
Though it perhaps doesn't quite get the fanfare it used to when Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead were in their heydays, AMC has continuously been putting out gems on its channel, including Dark Winds and Interview with the Vampire. Lucky Hank fits right alongside those as a new series that you're going to want to be watching.
Lucky Hank premieres on AMC on Sunday, March 19, at 9 pm ET/PT. The premiere is airing across all of AMC Network’s channels, including BBC America, IFC and Sundance TV, as well as AMC Plus.
Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).