Sunday, March 26, 2023

REVIEW: 'Lucky Hank' - Hank Grows Obsessed Over What Others Believe Happened to His Writing Career in 'George Saunders'

AMC's Lucky Hank - Episode 1.02 "George Saunders"

When George Saunders visits Railton College, the professors scramble to impress the celebrated writer, while Hank is reminded of his own failed writing career. Hank and Lily anticipate an announcement from their daughter Julie.

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

The narrative uses a real-life literary figure to provide an authentic understanding of its protagonist's ability and brilliance as a writer. Of course, it's an actor who plays the literary figure. As such, it's all part of the scripted story to convince the audience of Hank's greatness. That simply has to be true despite how annoying he frequently is to the people around him. It needs to reassure the audience that it's meaningful to be invested in this guy's life. He's more than just an annoyance who doesn't understand why popular things excite other people. He has a different perspective. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. The crux of the drama comes from the writer's block he faces over his second novel. It's been decades since he was first published. He has established a family and a career as a professor. He's the chair of Railton College's English department. He's very accomplished. He can navigate this position better than anyone else. That dysfunction is on full display. That was true when the other professors failed to oust him from power. This is a position he simultaneously wants and doesn't. He saw the possibility of having more time to devote to writing. He laments on having missed the golden opportunity. It's always something that should have happened already. It's not something that is possible for his future because there is too much vying for his attention. That's his immediate thought when Lily suggests Julie is pregnant. He will suddenly have to devote time to carrying for his newborn grandchild. That's something he wants to do. It's expected of him because his daughter will need the support of her parents. That's not the news she and her boyfriend want to share. Instead, it's a foolish business idea that has no chance of prospering. Hank and Lily got their hopes up for nothing. And yet, this isn't the only thing standing in Hank's way. He would rather see others as having slighted him instead of getting to the root of his problems. This is all in service to the overall story with George Saunders. Hank is asked to moderate a conversation. He's reluctant to do so because he views it as a comparison between their respective careers. They both published their first novels at the same time. George went on to great successful - as well as a functional relationship with Hank's father. Meanwhile, Hank has remained stuck. This conflict is necessary to convince Hank he is talented and gifted. Too much of his life is consumed with stress. Again, there's no root cause for it. He's simply worried about the possibility of kidney stones. It's not what is actually plaguing him. He prefers the distraction instead of the hard work. Others notice but simply learn how to tolerate him.

Bartow is still looking for an apology from his professor. Moreover, he believes he learns more in one class with George than he has learned from an entire semester with Hank. As such, he wants to start a club demanding excellence from students and facility. He's joined by two of his peers who are enamored by him for some reason. George provides constructive criticism that highlights how Bartow needs to edit his work to more effectively communicate the details of his short stories. Hank has offered that feedback before. Bartow is willing to hear it now. Hank typically delivers it in a condescending way that also attacks the ambitions these students have. He doesn't believe those line up with reality. Of course, it's all about the limitations he has placed on his own life. He has learned to confine himself to this one area. He has great notoriety within a 50 mile radius. He's curious what exists beyond that area. However, he never challenges himself to push further into what's possible. George argues that the world is missing out on that potential greatness. He would be disappointed if Hank only ever published one novel. He has more stories worth telling. It's only a matter of Hank committing to that path. It's far too easy to run away and get distracted by other pursuits. That's field hockey in this instance. It forces a confrontation. That's beneficial. A healthy and constructive dialogue can produce great content. Hank was worried about this presentation. Once the nerves go away, he's uplifted because George highlights the importance of asking these key questions. It's all in service of underlining Hank's brilliance. He has the skills to thrive even though the show will rarely ever have to produce a novel that can be fairly judged by the audience. It remains an aloof construct. As such, the show needs to thrive in other ways. That includes an expansion of the supporting ensemble. That too is defined by conflicts amongst the professors. They each try to establish a little slice of life for themselves. They share their lives with those around them. Their words and actions aren't uniformly appreciated. Instead, different perspectives are offered that showcase how twisted these memories have always been. Paul is a bully because he doesn't care who is annoyed by him revving his engine. Meanwhile, Gracie is disillusioned for believing her vying for her father's attention was actually special and meaningful. It's all a constant pull for praise and attention from authority figures. People have a better sense of recognizing that now and battling against that impulse. The clash of generations provides that perspective. It doesn't create crucial stories though. Instead, it only breaks down what was established previously. That offers a clean slate where anything can happen. Not much of it actually informs character in a way that immediately seems productive to what the show hopes to achieve moving forward. It's messy lives to broaden the scope of what's happening in this specific environment.