Bob Odenkirk, famous as the scamming lawyer Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul, returns to TV in Lucky Hank as grumpy Hank Devereaux, a middle-aged English department chair and professor at a low-rent Pennsylvania college. In the comedy-drama, the husband and father spirals into a midlife crisis fueled by his entitled Generation Z students, his brainy but peculiar colleagues, and his doubts about his career. (The school bookstore doesn’t even carry his one novel.)
The project is based on the 1997 novel Straight Man, by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Richard Russo. Odenkirk — who says as a college kid he aspired to be a Jack Kerouac-style novelist — warmed to it partly because it brought him back to his comedy roots: “Saul was funny at times, but he wasn’t part of the joke. Hank’s a wisecracker. He laughs at his situation while he suffers.”
The actor also liked “the positive side to it. Saul was a tough guy to play. He was so alone. He wanted Kim [Rhea Seehorn] to love him, but they were never going to fully embrace each other.” Hank benefits from a strong relationship with his wife, effervescent high school vice principal Lily, played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos. “As crabby as Hank is,” Odenkirk notes, “he loves his wife, and she loves him.”
When Hank berates a student (who demanded a critique!), the fallout threatens his tenure and causes cracks in his home life. Odenkirk is no stranger to midlife shocks, after having a heart attack on the set of Saul. “My growth, or whatever may come, from that heart attack, I’m still in the middle of it,” he says. “I’m working on work-life balance. I want to make the right choices so [I do] the best I can with the time I have left for the things I love.”
For Hank, those things are Lily and his college-age daughter Julie (Olivia Scott Welch). Notes Odenkirk: “Hank may think he’s unlucky, but the more you watch it, the more you think, wow, you got lucky, man.”
Lucky Hank, Series Premiere, Sunday, March 19, AMC, IFC, BBC America, SundanceTV
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