Question for Prof. William Henry “Hank” Devereaux Jr.: Do you feel lucky?
The question arises because of the title of this new drama -- part lighthearted and part not -- called “Lucky Hank,” coming to AMC+, AMC, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV on Sunday.
Whether or not “Hank” is lucky is a matter of opinion -- ours and his. AMC Networks apparently feels lucky to be in business with Bob Odenkirk (above photo) who stars as the titular Prof. Hank.
This is AMC’s third series in which Odenkirk appears. In the first one, “Breaking Bad,” he was a standout supporting player.
In the second one, “Better Call Saul,” he starred as lawyer Saul Goodman, the character he played in “Breaking Bad.”
“Better Call Saul” concluded a superlative six-season run last August, and here we are less than a year later with a new Odenkirk show on an entirely different subject. Clearly, AMC likes being in business with him.
In “Lucky Hank,” he is a tenured English professor and head of the department at a small, fictional college in Pennsylvania called Railton.
To say that Prof. Hank Devereaux is cynical is an understatement. Much of the show has him conducting monologues in his head in which he airs his complaints about the world.
“The misery industry -- that’s huge,” he thinks, referring to our bad-news media and how it fuels a bad-news culture. “The happiness industry?” he asks. “That’s like one guy who probably lives in Canada.”
He even comments on advertising, when he overhears two colleagues arguing with each other. “Why do grownups bother arguing?” he asks himself silently. “Haven’t we learned what the advertising world figured out long ago, that after age 49 we’re not changing our minds about anything?”
In the very first episode of “Lucky Hank,” he channels Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the fed-up news anchorman in “Network” (1976) who had an on-air meltdown and famously declared: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
In “Lucky Hank,” Prof. Hank rails about Railton and declares it to be a mediocre college where everyone there -- administrators, professors and students -- are mediocre too.
Unfortunately, he delivers this frustrated speech to a class of his writing students, even singling out of one of them for harsh criticism.
As a result, Prof. Devereaux gets in a heap of trouble. Among other things, just about everyone on campus is furious with him.
So is the Railton Board of Trustees and the students’ parents, especially the parents of the student who stepped into Prof. Devereaux’s crosshairs.
In the 45-minute first episode of “Lucky Hank,” we meet his wife, his grown daughter and his eccentric colleagues in the English department -- all of whom conspire against him and each other.
His wife, Lily, is played by Mireille Enos, who once starred in “The Killing” on AMC. Lily is a local high school principal who is dealing with a student problem of her own -- a problem teen who the teachers want her to expel.
One of the most attractive traits of “Lucky Hank” is that it is a TV drama on a human scale, something that is in short supply in today’s TV drama universe.
This is not interplanetary science fiction story, an end-of-the-world scenario or a pandemic that sweeps the world. It is just a guy trying to make sense of his life, and doing a terrible job at it.
Odenkirk is great in the show, but he is just the most prominent memberof a cast that gives him plenty of great support too.
As for the show’s title, Hank’s luck might lie in the fact that despite his sour outlook and attitude, he actually has it pretty good. His problem is that he does not seem to realize this.
“Lucky Hank” is another feather in the cap for lucky AMC Networks, which keeps chugging right along making some of the best shows on television.
“Lucky Hank” premieres on Sunday (March 19) on AMC+, AMC, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV.