‘Lucky Hank’ evaluation: Bob Odenkirk stars in a darkish comedy about academia

When tv goes to varsity, it’s normally to concentrate on the scholars, with their youth, dewy pores and skin and lust for all times undimmed by time, expertise or perspective. These exhibits provide successful of fantasy nostalgia for older viewers and a flattering mirror for youthful ones. They’re attractive by nature.

Stories that concentrate on professors and directors are a unique breed. (The 2021 Netflix collection “The Chair,” with Sandra Oh, was a uncommon current instance, and it died after a season.) If usually as infantile as their most tough college students, these characters could carry the added weight of ethical exhaustion, getting old our bodies and/or minds, spouses or ex-spouses, and kids; their days are mired in bureaucratic folderol, intra- and interdepartmental competitors amid shrinking budgets, and the strain of simply holding on to a job. Not so attractive!

Even so, bookshelves’ value of literary works have been set in that milieu. Many writers haven’t solely been to varsity however have additionally labored in them, and age tends to play higher on the web page than coming off an 80-inch, 4-Ok flat display.

One such guide, Richard Russo’s 1998 institutional comedian novel “Straight Man,” set in a third-tier faculty in a distressed western Pennsylvania city, has turn out to be the collection “Lucky Hank,” premiering Sunday on AMC.

Bob Odenkirk performs William Henry Devereaux Jr., a professor of writing and chair of the Railton College English division. The writer, years earlier than, of a nicely reviewed however unsuccessful novel, he’s the estranged son of a literary critic so esteemed his retirement is front-page information. He’s married to Lily (Mireille Enos) — motive sufficient to name Hank fortunate — a highschool administrator whose endurance he usually appears on the verge of exhausting; they’ve a grown married daughter, Julie (Olivia Scott Welch), who’s ever in want of cash. Hank can also be having hassle urinating and is satisfied, regardless of his physician, that he has a kidney stone as a result of his father had them — which, aside from a reputation, could also be all that he’s inherited from him.

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Creators Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman, who co-wrote the 2 episodes obtainable to evaluation (each directed by Peter Farrelly), have turned up the warmth on Hank. In the novel, which is much less the story of a midlife disaster than midlife stasis, he comes throughout largely as amused or bemused. Here he’s extra dyspeptic, cynical, unhappy, insecure, liable to panic and pushed by insecurities. He’s avowedly depressing. (Hank to Lily: “Who isn’t miserable? Being an adult is 80% misery.” Lily: “I think you’re at 80. The rest of us hover at around 30 to 40.”) That he hasn’t written a second novel — the failure of nerve additionally assigned to Jay Duplass’ character in “The Chair” — is far more of a problem within the collection. While novel-Hank has come to phrases with the likelihood he’s only a one-book author, series-Hank is haunted by it.

All these qualities lead early on to an outburst in school, prompted by a very making an attempt scholar, the self-admiring Bartow (Jackson Kelly), who is sort of certain that his work is past criticism. Demanding a stronger response from Hank, he will get it.

“The fact that you’re here means that you didn’t try very hard in high school or for whatever reason you showed very little promise. And even if your presence in this middling college in this sad forgotten town was some bizarre anomaly and you do have the promise of genius, which I’ll bet a kidney that you don’t, it will never surface. I am not a good enough writer or writing teacher to bring it out of you. But how do I know that? Because I too am here. At Railton College, mediocrity’s capital.”

Odenkirk as a cantankerous writing professor on the fictional Railton College.

(Sergei Bachlakov / AMC)

Having felt himself demeaned by Hank, whose rant winds up revealed within the campus newspaper to basic chagrin, Bartow — who stands for a sure type of entitled sensitivity — is not going to be content material to just accept his apology however insists it even be revealed within the campus newspaper. He is, seemingly, a nemesis within the making.

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Surrounding Hank are characters as pointedly particular person and colourful and as antagonistic because the solid of any office sitcom. In the English division are Paul (Cedric Yarbrough), who’s at struggle with Gracie (Suzanne Cryer); Teddy (Arthur Keng) and June (Alvina August), who’re married; Finny (Haig Sutherland), pretentious; Billie (Nancy Robertson), drunk; and Emma (Shannon DeVido), who’s, if something, extra sardonic than Hank. Above them is Jacob (Oscar Nuñez), the dean, who goes out of his method to be accommodating however can also be threatening funds cuts that make the professors really feel that their jobs is perhaps on the road. (Hank, who regards these threats as seasonal and empty, is extra sanguine on this account.) Diedrich Bader performs Tony, Hank’s good friend and racquetball associate, who additionally works on the faculty.

With solely two episodes obtainable to evaluation, it’s arduous to inform simply how a lot of “Straight Man” will discover its approach into “Lucky Hank.” (The opening shot, as Hank contemplates the faculty duck pond, means that a minimum of one main incident from the guide will repeat within the collection.) The novel is eventful with out being particularly plot heavy, and in its early phases the present comes on much less like a strict translation of Russo’s novel than the muse of a office that may wander any outdated approach and proceed for years, whereas the guide takes place over every week.

Indeed, the primary two episodes include myriad authentic scenes and plotlines, most notably a go to to the campus from George Saunders, an actual writer performed right here by the actor Brian Huskey, with whom Hank began out however who has far outpaced him. And although they’ve imported Russo’s characters — with some alterations — Lieberstein and Zelman haven’t used a lot, if any, of his dialogue and written their very own jokes for Hank, a few of them higher than the guide’s.

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Odenkirk, who began out as a comic, is a nice selection for a personality whose principal conversational mode, and approach of coping with the world, is the dry wisecrack. (These both are typically ignored or to escalate a scenario — nobody ever laughs.) A kind of charming antihero as soon as once more — his Saul Goodman was all that stored me watching “Breaking Bad” — who could or could not turn out to be extra hero than anti with time, he exerts a form of authority at the same time as he avoids accountability.

Enos, a soulful presence wherever she turns up — “The Killing” is the place many people would have met her — is so sympathetic that, if there’s one thing out of tune within the opening episodes, it’s that you may’t fairly see how Lily and Hank have stayed married. One greets a scene during which they stroll holding palms with aid and hopes for extra of that, not that darkish comedies are within the enterprise of satisfying these hopes.

There’s one thing concerning the collection that feels each quaint and well timed, given present debates concerning the value of faculty and the marketability of an English diploma. Nevertheless, individuals nonetheless attend faculty or work in a single, and write books or need to. And although “Straight Man” was written in a world earlier than media was social and when cancellation was a phrase utilized solely to the likes of TV exhibits and restaurant reservations, its social dynamics and cultural issues are nonetheless very a lot alive. “Lucky Hank” intensifies them to entertaining impact.

‘Lucky Hank’

Where: AMC
When: 9 p.m. Sundays
Rated: TV-14 (is probably not appropriate for youngsters youthful than 14)