This Lucky Hank review contains no spoilers.
Bob Odenkirk’s journey to stardom has been unconventional to say the least. He was first known as a legendary comedy writer on massive hits like Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. His biggest role in front of the camera during this time was on the HBO’s sketch comedy series he co-created: Mr. Show with Bob and David. Despite critical success in this realm of Hollywood, he was never an A-lister by any means. It wasn’t until he was casted as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, one of the greatest characters in the history of TV, that he became a household success story. Odenkirk always talks about how honored he was to be given the keys to such a complex role, but his humility undermines the brilliance of his performance. Odenkirk’s comedy background allowed him to ground Saul during his Jimmy McGill backstory on prequel Better Call Saul, and it gave an extra layer to a character that would have gone awry without such a talented actor.
The end of Better Call Saul in the summer of 2022 left a Bob Odenkirk-shaped hole in our lives, therefore his new show on AMC, Lucky Hank, would be satisfying even if it was a complete dumpster fire. I’m happy to inform you that the workplace dramedy based on the novel Straight Man by Richard Russo is anything but. Odenkirk returns to his roots as William Henry Deveraeux Jr., an everyman working as a college professor in a stale Pennsylvania town. Without a single drug lord or strain of methamphetamine in sight, Odenkirk gets to explore the trials of a midlife crisis without the outlandish consequences of laundering Heisenberg’s money. This complete 180 degree change in character portrayals is a wonderful look at the versatility that Odenkirk possesses as an actor and storyteller.
Early on, the audience is immediately given a comprehensive glance at all aspects of Hank’s life. Not only is he an unfulfilled teacher at a school that doesn’t prioritize actual learning (this is a common trope in on-screen education portrayals), but Hank’s worklife is exasperated by his personal sphere in which his wife is also struggling with her career and their daughter refuses to grow up. These aren’t really creative or unique plot lines for a family drama, therefore it’s vital for the characters to be realistic, fleshed out, and genuine to form a connection with the viewing audience. We don’t want to see the same story over and over again when it comes to the midlife crisis cliche.
The random, offbeat comedic undertones of the story help to alleviate any issues a person would have with the drama aspects of the show. It strikes a great balance between the two genres, but this strategy might not always be a home run for every viewer, especially early on in a show’s run. One scene in which Hank gets a spiral binder forked through his nose would lead us to believe the show will use shock comedy and grotesque circumstances as a tool for laughs, but then this style is never seen again in the first two episodes made available to critics.
It’s vital for Lucky Hank to figure out whether they are going to focus more on one element of Hank’s life, and it’s also interesting to figure out whether the supporting characters mean something on their own without serving Hank’s story. The camaraderie between the other faculty at the college is a unique and eclectic blend of personalities. Scenes in which we get to see interactions between these bit characters is reminiscent of the ways The Office or Parks and Recreation used to go about world-building. Expanding the screen time for these folks without Hank will help to make the show a better workplace comedy, but that might not be what the creators are solely looking for.
The crux of the program is to see the many different angles of a midlife crisis. This indecisive mashup of home, work, and friend life scenes that we see with Hank are most likely serving the purpose and themes on hand here. Getting older presents special challenges that disproportionately affect other parts of life. Sometimes work is more relevant one day, and this exacerbates the problems in a person’s home life. The screen time for each of these problems isn’t equal and this allows an immersive and relatable tone for viewers. It also makes for a little of a confusing watch because TV fans often need a tight and focused show rather than one that meanders like their own daily lives.
All of these small qualms are going to be irrelevant though to the main fanbase of this show. It’s safe to assume a large portion of the people tuning in on March 19 are going to be fans of Better Call Saul who are still reeling from the incredible finale in August of 2022. Odenkirk has become a legend in these circles, and receiving any crumbs from him would be suitable, but getting a full-fledged series less than a year after he left TV screens is a privilege that I, and so many others are appreciative of. He brings a calm and a comfort that is hard to match in showbusiness. Seeing him bring his “A” game yet again isn’t a surprise, but it’s still something that should be praised. Hopefully seeing a double dose of Odenkirk will get Emmy voters to finally give him his long-deserved trophy at the awards ceremony in September.
Lucky Hank premieres Sunday, March 19 at 9 p.m. ET.