Hank May Not Be Lucky But AMC Is

David B Morris
8 min readMar 28, 2023

Bob Odenkirk is Back On AMC — But That’s Not The Only Reason To Watch Lucky Hank

Better call…well, still watch Lucky Hank. latimes.com

I have made little secret over the last decade and indeed before that how much of an admirer I am of Bob Odenkirk. I have loved him well before he took on his iconic role of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, and was actually appalled to learned that he had little choice to do so at the time because his agent told him he was basically broke. (The co-creator of Mr. Show was nearly bankrupt? That’s a crime in itself.) His work as Jimmy McGill on Better Call Saul was one of the great performances on one of television’s greatest series. I’d be angrier that Odenkirk has never won an Emmy for it, but I remember the field he’s been a part of over the series’ run, and I would have voted for at least four of the actors who ended up winning anyway. (Doesn’t let you off the hook to ignore him this year.)

Given that he suffered a heart attack while filming the final season of the show, we are lucky that he is still around to keep working. Odenkirk himself could be forgiven for taking time off before doing any other projects but less that a year after the finale of Saul aired, here he is on another AMC series playing another title character in the new comedy Lucky Hank.

Now it’s worth noting I would watch Odenkirk in anything he does by this point, and if nothing else Lucky Hank an adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel Straight Man resolves the one thing I was troubled by throughout Saul’s run. For the better part of seven years, Odenkirk had to pretend that he was at least five years younger than when Breaking Bad started when he was already six years older. I credit the makeup artists for doing that (as well as the series for never pushing it that hard) but I’ll admit that part of me has wanted to see Odenkirk play a character at least his own age for the last few years. Watching him play failed author turned head of the English department at an underfunded Pennsylvania college, I get to see the pleasure of Odenkirk essentially playing the complete opposite of Jimmy McGill/Saul — a late middle-aged, family man, who feels that life is a waste and barely has the effort to go through the motions with it. It also helps Lucky Hank is more or less a comedy as opposed to the dark drama that Odenkirk has been working in (albeit brilliantly) for the last fifteen years now gets to be the curmudgeon who can’t take anything seriously if his job depends on it. (Unlike Saul, his life does not.)

Now I imagine Odenkirk’s presence alone would be enough for some viewers but not for many. I’ll admit one of the reasons that Lucky Hank appeals to me more than some is that I thoroughly enjoy the setting of Lucky Hank — the English department of a mediocre Pennsylvania college. I kind of fell in love with the show in the first scene where a clearly bored Hank is supervising (one can’t really say teaching) his literature class. Bartow, the classes prodigy, wants Hank to ‘criticize’ his excerpt, when its very clear he wants to be told how great it is. Hank points out the obvious flaws in the chapter and Bartow, who has pretention written all over him, basically says that Hank isn’t qualified to instruct because ‘his only novel isn’t even sold in the campus bookstore’. Exasperated Hank berates Barton telling him that he’s not a good writer and the reason he knows this is ‘you’re here! I’m not a good enough writer to teach you and the reason I know that because I’m here!” Naturally the student newspaper berates him for calling Rackleton college mediocre and the next day all his teachers are giving him fisheye stares.

The thing is, Hank is absolutely right. Rackleton is the kind of college you go to if your safety school won’t accept you but community college is somehow beneath you. Bartow himself is a prime example of this, as one student says: “Your parents have a building named after them at Notre Dame and they still couldn’t get you in there.” (Bartow says: ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’) The only sports that regularly wins at the athletic level is field hockey. The college has been underfunded for years and there are more budgets cuts looming — for good reasons, when one professors holds a seminar it’s in her office because there are exactly three students in it.

But just because this is such a mediocre college doesn’t make the English teachers any less egomaniacal, back-biting or self-important. Hank’s arch ‘nemesis’ is Gracie DuBois who is angry for being considered mediocre even though she is considered the ‘top scholar in 21st century feminist poetry’ — a genre so narrow you think she has to have created herself. Indeed, her top prize in this came over a decade ago and she hasn’t written anything interesting since. She would be the most unpleasant person in his department except at this point no one’s even bothering to go through the motions. (A rival of her actually says: “I don’t have to be pleasant. I have tenure!”)

The fact is this is such a mediocre college that even the scheming and back-biting is fundamentally lazy. When Emma wants to form a ‘coup’ and take over the English Department, Hank doesn’t even bother to put up a defense because he doesn’t care that much. Neither does the department: the motion carries because three people vote in favor of it, everyone else abstains. The next day Hank expects to be dismissed but is saved by the narcissism that comes from being in higher education: everyone votes for themselves and Finny (by far the most pretentious) accidentally votes for Hank because in his mind ‘that’s abstaining.’

The student body is just as lazy. Bartow camps out at Hank’s desk the next day saying all he wanted to do was write. Then he demands a written apology posted on the website. Hank won’t even go through the motions with it, so Bartow puts a piece of paper in front of his desk that says ’23 days without an apology.” In last night’s episode George Saunders (playing himself) who was an old rival of Hank’s sits in on Hank’s class and basically gives the same criticism of how lousy a writer Bartow is. Bartow’s reaction is that he’s learned more that in class and demands to form a class of ‘excellence’. (This club has three members, including a sycophant who I suspect in a future story will be revealed to have a crush on him.) The beleaguered dean gives into this just to get Barstow off his back. It’s clear that Bartow didn’t listen take Saunders’ criticism any more seriously than he did Hank’s; all he cares about is a famous writer criticized his work! (Of course just before Saunders gives his lecture, Bartow reveal he’s never even read his work.)

As someone who truly loved the Netflix comedy The Chair, I find Lucky Hank appealing for much the same reasons. This is a whimsical study of what all English departments and indeed so many college faculties are like; you get the feeling the student body doesn’t even have the energy to cancel someone. And Hank, whose entire life has been in this mediocre town, is completely fit for it. He’s always been living under his father’s shadow. His father was a brilliant writer who abandoned him and his mother for a younger woman when he was a child. (In the scenes we see with Hank’s mother, though, you sort of get the sense of why he might have done just that.) Having spent the last fifteen years seeing Odenkirk playing a character who spent his life punching above his weight, it’s fascinating to see him basically play someone who doesn’t even have the energy to punch any more. He knows he’s not a good teacher, he’s been stuck on his second novel for more than twenty years and he hates the town he lives in but just doesn’t have the energy to leave. His life might be unbearable were it not for his beloved wife Lily (Mireille Enos returns to AMC a decade after The Killing left)

Lily is everything Hank is not, tolerant, compassionate and completely understanding of her husband. She is a capable high school guidance counselor and she has a certain level of ambition, which Hank continuously frustrates. There is also the problem of their daughter Julie who has been living with her boyfriend for awhile but is nowhere near independent. She says she wants to have a meeting with her parents to announce, ‘big news,’ which means they expect she’s pregnant — and it’s a plan to buy a pool and start a business plan on their app. Judging by Hank and Lily’s reaction at the news, they have been down this road many, many times.

I will confess to being charmed and constantly amused by Lucky Hank. Most of the cast is made up comedy veterans who know how to do this well. Oscar Nunez of The Office is constantly put-upon as the dean. Diedrich Bauer (who played a college professor in American Housewife) doesn’t even have to try hard to get laughs (he hasn’t been used nearly enough) And it’s wonderful to watch Cedric Yarborough, a favorite of mine from the gone far-too-soon gem Speechless play an English professor who loves being unpleasant in every aspect. (I love his reaction when he learns his sacred campus parking spot is being taken: “Do you know how many tenured professors had to die for me to get that spot? Four! And the last two really suffered!”) One would expect such humor from the work of Peter Farrelly, but who would have thought that show-runner Aaron Zelman, who I know best for his work on the cutthroat drama Damages would have such a gift for comedy?

Now I admit that, for many fans of Peak TV, a series like this that seems to have so low stakes and so little action in it might not be enough of a reason to watch. (No doubt they would rather watch Succession a show which has so little action but at least the people are you know…well, you tell me.) That being said, I’m glad that Lucky Hank is around and that it’s on AMC. Over the last few years I have despaired at the network that brought us such groundbreaking dramas as Mad Men and Breaking Bad has basically become the home of The Walking Dead and stories relating to witches and vampires. Lucky Hank is the kind of series that AMC used to do very well but stopped trying because monsters were more profitable. Perhaps Odenkirk was drawn to this project for the same reason Hank Devereaux is still teaching: he can’t leave his home. And in this case, I think the viewer is lucky for it. I’m glad that I’m here.

My score: 4.25 stars.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.