Sunday, March 19, 2023

REVIEW: 'Lucky Hank' - Hank Admits That It's Better to Have Low Expectations of Life at Railton College in 'Pilot'

AMC's Lucky Hank - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Hank rants against Railton College, calling it "Mediocrity's Capitol," and the administration is pressured to fire him. Hank and Lily contemplate a future outside of Railton.

"Pilot" was written by Paul Lieberstein & Aaron Zelman and directed by Peter Farrelly

It's foolish for anyone to aspire to anything above mediocrity at Railton College. That's the perspective Hank has long carried. It's not some sudden realization he makes in the midst of offering feedback to a student's short story. It's how he truly feels. It's how his entire life has been informed. Hank views people as always simmering overwhelmingly in misery. That has been true of his life. He has made peace with that. He doesn't see the point of people complaining. At this point in their lives, they should understand the world is set up to make them miserable all the time. His wife holds a different view. She doesn't see herself as always miserable. Hank argues how that makes her perfectly unique. It could also be seen as her living completely in denial. She projects much more importance and substance onto her life and job than is actually true. She has moments of volatility that show how miserable she actually is. And yet, she has chosen to accept this mediocre life she has built with Hank. Again, no one should aspire for more. That's what makes it cruel when Hank suggests a massive change. Him getting fired as Chair of the English Department could allow them to move to New York City. Lily already has a job offer. They could make that a reality. And then, it's cruelly taken away. Lily understands her husband needs therapy in order to get to the root causes of his issues. She doesn't force the subject. She simply forgot that it's never feasible to ever leave this town. This is where Hank has accepted his lot in life. He looks at the announcement of his father's retirement in the newspaper not with sentimentality or envy. Instead, it's fear that their estranged relationship is about to change. He doesn't understand how anyone could improve on what has already been created. That lines up with some expectations others have in the world. Hank falls in line with how his generation parented their children who are now young adults who love their parents and are always around. Hank knows Julie is always going to ask him for money. His harsh response is seen as the most vicious parenting he has ever done because he never wanted his daughter to feel pain at any point. He doesn't want to start now. He may not have best prepared her for the world. And yet, this story is more than a simple critique of how generations clash in a professional setting. Hank makes his opinion known. One student in particular feels belittled and abused by a professor refusing to acknowledge his greatness. Hank makes some very valid points about Bartow's writing. It crosses the line when Hank starts talking in absolutes about the entire system. When that transition happens, it's notable because it's so personal. It requires a response. Simply no one is prepared to properly address it. That's true both of the students at this college and the various members of the administration.

The depiction of academia is one of pointless and circular bureaucracy. No one has the power to actually punish Hank for his remarks. In fact, it can all be interpreted as Hank wanting to get fired from this job. That would push him into an existential crisis that forces some evolution in his work. And yet, he also sends mixed signals. He is happy when the professors from his department oust him as Chair. He is also happy when they mess up and reinstate him in the position. It's a very roundabout way of saying that nothing is ever going to change. Thinking that it ever will is foolish. That's the energy Hank embodies. As such, it's not worth the time or effort to be upset about anything. It's a difficult character to present because something big has to happen in order to provoke a meaningful response from him. Instead, it's often about how people navigate around having someone like Hank in their lives. Hank is the central character though. He makes these observations that only the audience can hear. Moreover, he actually agrees with some of the points raised in the classroom discussion and the article about his behavior. He still criticizes it as being poorly written. Bartow doesn't properly convey authority in his writing. As such, he can't successfully persuade anyone. Hank can look deeper than that. He was willing to apologize to his student. And yet, Bartow requires a public statement. If it doesn't happen in the same format as the accusation, then it doesn't matter. That's how he views the world. Everything has to be performative in order to matter. Hank is fine with private moments. That's what defines meaningful personal relationships. He has a strict schedule. He has relationships that are seemingly set in stone. Billie gets drunk and calls Hank just to berate him. She's the closest ally he has in the department. And yet, she's struck as to why he continually allows her to treat him this way. It makes no sense. It defies an explanation and the behavior continues. Again, that's the pattern. It's not worth the effort to change things now. Underneath it all though is the clear appeal of change. It may take some kind of forceful action for Hank to admit that. Instead, he looks at the racquetball wall not believing it can be improved by any kind of dream he still carries. That allows his friend Tony to go right back to talking about his sex life. The fellow professors continue arguing over the respect they believe they deserve. Lily feels good for a moment believing she has solved problems at her school. None of them are really addressing the underlying issues. As such, they are all just like Hank. He simply is willing to admit the misery. That doesn't make for a great life. It's simply one they have all comfortably settled into. One where conflicting emotions allow no changes or risks to occur. Even the spiral of a notebook isn't enough to knock Hank into a different outlook.