'Lucky Hank' review: Bob Odenkirk's post-'Saul' drama is a letdown
SERIES "Lucky Hank"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Hank Devereaux, Jr. (Bob Odenkirk) is the reluctant chairman of the English department of Railton College, a small struggling school located somewhere in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania. Hank is also on the cusp of a midlife crisis: He wrote a novel years earlier, and hasn't produced a follow-up, while his wife Lilly (Mireille Enos), a high school vice-principal, is growing ever so weary of his ongoing existential crisis. The same could be said of Railton's dean of students (Oscar Nunez,"The Office"), the other English department faculty members, and (especially) Hank's students. This eight-parter — based on Richard Russo's 1997 novel "Straightman" — is produced in part by "The Office's" Paul Lieberstein, who both wrote for that show and played Toby.
MY SAY In the early 1950s, Kingsley Amis wrote what would become one of the most influential comic novels of the 20th century, about a disaffected academic who toiled away in a small British university while rationing his cigarettes and grabbing whatever alcoholic beverage was within reach. "Lucky Jim" launched a lit genre — "academic comedy" — and gave a generation of writers license to scorn the colleges where they taught and the manifest indignities they endured.
You know: The usual stuff, like students, colleagues, deans, budget cuts, and life in some provincial backwater.
"Lucky Hank" isn't exactly "Lucky Jim," but it is the same general idea, and has that same smoldering, just-below-the-surface resentment, leavened (if only just) by a droll, comic sensibility. Odenkirk's Hank Devereaux is a string of "selfs" — self-absorbed, centered and loathing. He abhors his students because they remind him of him, or an earlier version of himself, who didn't yet know that dreams, or at least the writing life, was for suckers. He also has writer's block, which makes his cynicism even more impotent — or craven. And he's the son of a New York-based academic star who views his offspring with a certain arm's-length disdain.
Born on third base, Hank has no idea how to get to home plate, and has pretty much given up trying.
In short, Hank Devereaux is a tweedy, whiny jerk, and knows that better than anyone. If he doesn't sound like a lot of fun, then at least he's got Odenkirk to play him.
You can't help but see a little bit of Saul Goodman behind that well-trimmed beard. Saul was a con man with the heart of a romantic while Hank is a misanthrope with the heart of a Grinch. Odenkirk certainly manages the transition well but there's only so much he can do and only so much "Lucky Hank" can do over the two episodes offered for review — and (really), that's not nearly enough.
They aren't exactly flat as much as unhurried. That's an inauspicious sign for the other six. Netflix's 2021 series, "The Chair'' — with Sandra Oh as an English department chairwoman also forced to writhe in the snake pit of academia — seemed to cover some of this same ground with a lot more energy. It lasted just a season. For "Hank," that's also inauspicious.
BOTTOM LINE With only the first two episodes as guide — admittedly not much, or nearly enough — Odenkirk's post-"Saul '' second act is a perfectly pleasant letdown.