Bob Odenkirk scores with ‘Lucky Hank,’ a frustrated guy who shares his DNA with his scammer ‘Saul’

You should know that the only deaths in the first two episodes of “Lucky Hank” are the dignity of the main character and his internal editor. Neither goes quietly; in fact, it is a murder-suicide.

English teacher William “Hank” Devereaux, Jr. can’t help himself when one of his creative writing students, a spindly narcissist all too enamored with his ability to string words into sentences, reminds his professor that his only novel isn’t even available at the campus bookstore. Hank retorts with the unerring aim of a professional assassin.

“You, you are here! You are here! . . . The fact that you’re here means you didn’t try very hard in high school or for some reason showed very little promise.”

It’s not something anyone tasked with forming young minds should ever say. But Hank goes further, telling the considerably less confident boy that even though he keeps the genius’s promise, Hank doesn’t have the ability to bring it out in him. “And how do I know? How? Because I’m here too! At Railton College, the capital of mediocrity!”

As the rants go on, this one is a real beauty, such a fiery explosion that another student records it on her phone and quickly circulates it around campus. But Hank does not despair. He knows he’ll either skate through the blowback since he’s a tenured professor or be fired, freeing him from the shackles of second-rate academia. In his mind, he’s screwed more if he’s forced to stay where he is, stuck in this serene Pennsylvania college town that gives him everything he needs but is slowly killing him.

“Lucky Hank” is a brilliant way for Bob Odenkirk to follow “Better Call Saul” because the two main characters are more alike than one might suspect.

It is also an experiment, allowing us to see if the actor has as much magnetism to attract an audience to him as his character from the “Breaking Bad” universe enjoyed.

The dramatic magnitude of Odenkirk pierces the viewer wherever it turns up. In the frantic 2021 diversion “Nobody,” it’s Hutch, a retired special forces agent who resurfaces to tear apart an army of thugs who threaten to hurt his family. The film is a light action game, but Odenkirk’s performance carries weight because of what Hutch represents, before his rampage: he’s a middle-aged loser who never puts trash on the sidewalk at time to catch the garbage truck. A man whose wife keeps him at bay sleeping behind a wall of pillows. A scruffy beta male, until he flipped the alpha switch on everyone’s ass.

Odenkirk’s “Better Call Saul” performance was a must. He has the same magnetism in “Lucky Hank”.

Saul Goodman isn’t that guy, but he flexes in a way that has men like Hutch looking to him for help. Both figures exist in the same body; both are bullies in their own way. But Saul had the broken soul and bruised heart of Jimmy McGill, a Midwestern con man trying not just to do good, but to do better.

Odenkirk, like Jimmy, is an Illinois native from a very beautiful place called Naperville, he wrote in his memoir “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama”, “what looks like this: a small town in Illinois named from a determined white man with just rights”. self-confidence named (no kidding) ‘Joe Naper.'” The actor isn’t that type, but his work shows us he’s familiar with the type. He’s also aware of the number of Joe Napers out there. – titled white men who chafe at the limitations and expectations of the charming suburbs where they live comfortably and fit in perfectly.

That’s what made his “Better Call Saul” performance a must. A similar energy propels his work into “Lucky Hank,” a wickedly funny departure even though Hank is, spiritually, a distant relative of Jimmy McGill. They share the same voice, except one imagines the actor trading the value of desert sand in his timbre for a mountain of Keystone State gravel.

Mireille Enos in “Lucky Hank” (AMC)

They also tap into adjacent wells of thwarted ambition. Hank’s father is a renowned critic and author, long estranged from his son. Hank’s novel, as his arrogant and mediocre talent as a student reminds him, is an afterthought. Yet he is the president of his department and has a loving wife, Lily (Mireille Enos) who isn’t living her best life either. But as the vice principal of a local school, she manages to keep her misery at around 30-40%. “I think you’re 80,” she told her husband.

“Lucky Hank” is a workplace comedy, albeit with episodes lasting over 40 minutes and co-workers being “trapped in success,” as co-showrunner Paul Lieberstein described them to reporters covering the recent Television Critics Association press conference. .

Saul was locked up by a Mexican drug cartel, and later by Walter White; Hutch was socially and psychologically pushed into a cold room somewhere in the suburbs. Hank’s spell, on the other hand, lacks the physical danger lurking around Odenkirk’s other recent roles. In Railton, the main violence is carried out by gestures of insult and belittlement, and the only blood drawn is accidental. Yet the university workplace is overwhelming in a way that everyone can relate to.

The Last Man of Odenkirk tests what happens when a person shrinks to meet their current low expectations.

Lieberstein previously worked on “The Office” as one of its producers and as Toby, the bland HR rep everyone fought over. The fate of the Odenkirk professor and his colleagues on “Lucky Hank” is similar to that of the inmates of Dunder Mifflin, except for the higher level of intellectual discourse and the lower stakes.

“You can’t quit this job,” Lieberstein said of Hank’s permanent status. “So it just allows people to behave very badly in a semi-protected way.”

If only the show enjoyed that level of certainty. “Lucky Hank” is not an extension of a franchise, although it is adapted from Richard Russo’s 1997 bestseller “Straight Man.” Odenkirk joked about it gently targeting the all-in bet of his channel about zombies, vampires and witches. “I could have been a zombie,” he answered a question about the options that landed on his doorstep at the “Saul” ending. But seriously folks. . . those monster clean odds.

Bob Odenkirk as Hank in “Lucky Hank” (Sergei Bachlakov/AMC)

And yet, by choosing to star in a story about a guy who doesn’t like his decent life, Odenkirk is also playing on his rugged acting strength who knows how to infuse every line with simple fervor and humor, and carries the doldrums. tired of a man manhandled by life.

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Hank Devereaux isn’t Saul Goodman, but you get the feeling they’d understand each other’s refusal to trust whatever good fortune comes their way. Hank takes a straighter path, which doesn’t make him a warning or a study in corruption, but a vision of what it’s like to be a gifted writer who fades after years of getting in the way. his own way.

In Railton, there is no imminent threat of annihilating destruction by crank drug lords or their henchmen. The first two episodes contain no indication that Hank is hiding vices. He puts everything out there, especially his low expectations for himself.

Yes, “Lucky Hank” is pure Odenkirk, which is at its best when it plays average guys who feel assailed from all sides and pushed beyond their limits even as life provides them with a cozy bed. The only criminals on this show are cynicism, outsized egos, and bad taste, all of which Hank handles with a straight-razor wit and in ways that are entirely within the law. We hope this will be enough for people. He deserves to be.

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