Life can hit you hard at any time. Whether it be one bad work day or something drastic that lasts a long time, the unpredictability of life, combined with the residues of the past, can build up to a culmination of stress, personality changes, and even withdrawal. In Lucky Hank, one week’s worth of surviving life can change and transform a person completely, even when they’re going through an internal phase of their own.
Lucky Hank is a live-action adaptation of Straight Man, an acclaimed novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo. Following the life of William Henry “Hank” Devereaux, Jr. (Bob Odenkirk), Hank must face and confront his life’s challenges including his jealous colleagues, cracking familial relationships, and unachieved youthful ambitions. However, with his own pessimistic, realist beliefs taking the wheel, Hank must figure out whether he could change himself and his outlook on life, for better or for worse, all while persevering through one very bad week.
Though Lucky Hank is structured to be an adaptation, it is able to harness the core themes of Russo’s material in a way that creates a very charming atmosphere while still focusing on what made the novel heartfelt. From the few episodes I’ve watched, there are particular moments of humor and humility between Hank, his family, and some of his academic colleagues that seem more heartfelt, centering themselves on the themes of self-adaptation and compassion. These isolated, calmer moments with Hank and the other characters help lay a strong foundation for what comes in each episode as Hank’s mis-adventurous complications in this show tie in with these moments amazingly. Through Aaron Zelman and Paul Lieberstein’s direction, the show is able to make Hank’s personal transformation more relatable and emotionally convincing.
Furthermore, the cinematography contributes amazingly to both the comical and serious tones of the show, blending these two aspects together to create that emotional resonation. Some of the shots in the comedic scenes, from wide to straight close-ups, feel in-line with other shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul while putting their own twists to create that sense of humor to pull out of some of the more awkward moments. However, the show utilizes these shots perfectly to showcase Hank’s emotional states and hilarious actions as well as manifest a nervous tension between Hank and the rest of the cast as the college lifestyle becomes overbearing throughout the episodes.
Speaking on the characters, the execution of Russo’s material feels slightly derivative from the novel. From the get-go, Odenkirk’s portrayal as the vilified Hank Devereaux may slightly feel like a soft echo of his iconic character Saul Goodman with his stark cynicisms. However, Hank gets built up by his loving family and becomes deeply attuned to an inherent toxic academic environment thanks to his peers and students, giving Hank with a depth of compassion and jealousy that firmly encompasses Russo’s construction of Hank. Accompanied by Mireille Enos’ role as the supportive, yet slightly reserved Lily, the two are able to play off each other with realistic, emotional chemistry while providing a moderate basis of what’s to come when Hank starts and finishes his work.
As Hank goes off to work at Railton College, it almost feels as if the show tries to channel a sitcom-like impression while providing its own commentary on the aches of the college experience, made apparent by Hank’s first-person narrations. Most of the scenes between Hank and the rest of the cast, from his students to his peers at the English department, work with a developing awkward tension thanks to Hank’s apathetic view on life. However, because some of these characters have a one-dimensional establishment, like Hank’s impertinent colleagues, their separate storylines try to integrate themselves into becoming something that doesn’t have as strong as a payoff as Hank’s story will have. Fortunately, there are multiple moments from these scenes that got a laugh out of me, but they hide within the cliché dialogue utilized by underdeveloped side characters.
Overall, Lucky Hank is a humorous and faithful adaptation that stands out on its own with genuine hilarity and heartwarming themes. Despite its underdeveloped side characters and corny writing in some areas, it has a great understanding of what made Hank Devereaux a memorable and empathetic character and puts those aspects into the light. Hopefully, its issues could be fixed, but so far, Lucky Hank is counting on its luck for the future.
Lucky Hank premieres on AMC and AMC+ on March 19.