Bob Odenkirk as Hank in LUCKY HANK | ©2023 AMC

Bob Odenkirk as Hank in LUCKY HANK | ©2023 AMC

Less than a year after wrapping up six seasons on AMC’s much-awarded BETTER CALL SAUL, Bob Odenkirk is back on the network in LUCKY HANK, which premieres Sunday, March 19, on AMC, AMC+, BBC America, IFC, and SundanceTV.

Show runners/executive producers Paul Lieberstein & Aaron Zelman adapted LUCKY HANK from Richard Russo’s 1997 novel STRAIGHT MAN. Both the TV series and the explore the life of Odenkirk’s character, William Henry “Hank” Devereaux Jr., the perpetually annoyed chair of the English department at a small university in a small town. Hank decries both school ad community as the epitome of mediocrity – something that gets picked up by the news.

Hank is married to the much more upbeat Lily, played by Mireille Enos, who is vice-principal at a high school. Lily tries to get Hank to integrate more comfortably with his life, while Hank deals with issues of academic backbiting, aggrieved students, and his non-speaking relationship with his famous father.

During AMC’s portion of the Winter 2023 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour, held at Pasadena’s Langham Hotel, Lieberstein and Zelman sit down to talk LUCKY HANK.

ASSIGNMENT X: Did either of you bring this project to AMC, or did AMC say, “We have this, and we’d like you to develop it for us”?

PAUL LIEBERSTEIN: [Fellow LUCKY HANK executive producer] Mark Johnson had it first with AMC and Sony, so it was set up before. So, we joined them.

AX: Did you join as a team, or separately?

ZELMAN: Separately.

LIEBERSTEIN: We hadn’t worked together before. Aaron had a Sony deal, and we were just talking at lunch one day about this book that we were both really interested in, and wanted to do it.

ZELMAN: We were friends, we talked about wanting to do something together, and this book came up through Sony, because I have a deal there, and I said, “I think I have the perfect partner for this.” So, I suggested Paul, and they loved the idea, and we met with Mark and his people.

LUCKY HANK Season 1 Key Art | ©2023 AMC

LUCKY HANK Season 1 Key Art | ©2023 AMC

AX: How long has LUCKY HANK taken to get onto the screen?

LIEBERSTEIN: We started in – am I wrong? – 2015.

ZELMAN: I think that’s right. It’s been a long process. We had different versions of the script. We had a half-hour, an hour, and we were trying to figure out exactly what to do with it. And then, we had some directors interested, but it really all came together when Bob came on board. That was when we knew we had it.

AX: Did AMC say, “We’re looking to do something else with Bob Odenkirk, and we’re putting projects in front of him for him to consider”?

LIEBERSTEIN: No. My recollection is, Aaron, who was working with Bob on something completely separate as a consultant, told him about this, gave him the script, and Bob loved it.

ZELMAN: It went through his managers, and they thought it would be great for it, he read it, and got on board. And then we went to AMC eventually.

LIEBERSTEIN: And they were like, “Yeah, we know Bob.”

[Both laugh.]

ZELMAN: “That sounds great. We’d really like to keep him.”

LIEBERSTEIN: They loved having him and not losing him.

ZELMAN: They loved the idea of keeping him and going right into his next show.

AX: Paul Lieberstein, you are both an actor and a writer – you were a writer/producer on THE OFFICE, and you were also a series regular as Toby Flederson. Does acting or writing take precedence?

LIEBERSTEIN: The writing. I wanted to act in this, too. We were looking for a little part, but we were too busy. I just couldn’t find the time to act [laughs].

ZELMAN: I wouldn’t let him. I said, “I can’t have you doing that. Can’t have you spending all that time on the set. I need you too much.”

AX: And you, Aaron Zelman, had previously worked with Mireille Enos when you were a writer/producer on THE KILLING, and another LUCKY HANK cast member, Suzanne Cryer, when you were a writer/producer on SILICON VALLEY. Had you been actively looking to do something with either or both of them again?

ZELMAN: I love them both. and Mireille, honestly, we were looking for a good partner for Bob, and once Mireille’s reps read the script, they really responded to it, and once I knew that she was interested, I just said, “Guys, she’s amazing. I’ve worked with her. She can do so much, more than what you’ve seen her do,” because as she’s said herself, she was kind of tired of shooting people [laughs] and wanted to do a lighter tone and something more human. Everybody got right on board, and we realized right away that she’d be a great match for Bob.

AX: In the first episode, there’s a conflict about work between Hank and Lily. She defers to the marriage over her own ambitions, and he expects her to defer to the marriage, even though he’s much less excited about the job that he has, which she’s deferring to him for. Will we see that dynamic questioned as the series proceeds?

LIEBERSTEIN: We sure will. I’d say kind of at the heart of the season is this fact that she’s ready for something, for another chapter, she’s growing, and he has to catch up, and that takes the season.

ZELMAN: She’s realizing that she’s made a lot of sacrifices, and that’s okay, because she has a family and a husband she loves, but it’s a time in her life where her kids are grown, and it’s that, “What now?” She’s become stronger about questioning and taking charge of what’s the status quo, and taking charge of the next step herself.

AX: The source novel STRAIGHT MAN was written in 1997, and LUCKY HANK takes place in the present. Were there changes you had to make to make it contemporary?

LIEBERSTEIN: The difference between what an English department looked like in the ‘90s when he wrote the book and today is very, very different. And so, we had to change some characters around, we made it more diverse, more women, we added some more women and youth. We weren’t too interested in a throwback, stodgy old English department of yore.

ZELMAN: Yeah. One thing we definitely knew – we didn’t want this to be a show about issues. We felt that that was kind of the low-hanging fruit way to depict a college show, and it just felt like, that’s not really what we’re interested in. That’s not what the book focused on, and we just wanted to focus on these people’s lives.

LIEBERSTEIN: That’s what interested us – people living normal lives.

AX: There’s an election sequence in the first episode that I am assuming was written and shot before January of this year, but are you worried or hopeful that people may see that as a satire of the Speaker of the House votes in Congress?

[Both laugh.]

LIEBERSTEIN: I hadn’t thought of it.

ZELMAN: I think that would be great.

LIEBERSTEIN: It gives it new resonance.

ZELMAN: I love that. If there was any concern that it wasn’t realistic …

AX: Were there any things that had to be changed because of technology, like people having access to cell phones?

ZELMAN: Yeah. That’s always like the new thing for writers in television. You know, how much of the gadgets and electronics …

LIEBERSTEIN: But we weren’t [initially] really taking much from Russo’s plot. We did borrow some overarching storylines, but I think it’s funny. We intended to go our own way, and then kept going back to the book – “Well, that really is very good.” “Oh, that does work quite well.” And I think we took more things than we thought we were going to.

ZELMAN: But at the same time, like Paul says, it’s very different, and we took many liberties.

AX: With the balance of the various storylines in LUCKY HANK, how much going forward is going to be the relationship between Hank and Lily, how much is going to be his relationship with his peers, how much is going to be the relationship with his students, how much if any is going to be her life outside of the marriage?

ZELMAN: All of that stuff. One of the trickiest things in the writers’ room to get right is that balance, and we labored and labored over, “Do we have the right mix?”

LIEBERSTEIN: Some episodes will feel a little more workplace, some feel much more family. But on the whole, on the journey of the season, I think it’s pretty balanced.

ZELMAN: We questioned at the beginning, “Are there too many characters?” We just decided to really embrace it. This is a whole new world, and you’re meeting all these people, and they’re all part of this guy’s life, and the audience I think will really go along for the ride and love these little nuggets they find along the way.

AX: How many episodes is your first season?


AX: LUCKY HANK is set in Pennsylvania, but where do you actually shoot?

LIEBERSTEIN: We’re in Vancouver, in some pretty traditional places to shoot, and also on the B.C. campus, and all over town. Vancouver is pretty good at becoming other places.

ZELMAN: Yeah. Not much is on stages, by the way. That’s mostly locations, because [pilot director/executive producer] Peter Farrelly loves shooting on location. So, I think it gives it a real texture.

AX: What does Peter Farrelly bring to the show?

ZELMAN: So much. Peter was incredible. The guy has so much experience, and while he completely respected what we wanted to do, and was not trying to change or take it over in any way, he was very collaborative, within that, he added so much on set. There were not a ton, but there were absolutely some terrific ad-libs that made it on, little situations he saw he could make better. So, as a director, he really brought up the script. To a certain degree, it’s always a collaboration with the director. Usually, the way TV works is, it’s a collaboration with the show runners and the director. We very much felt that way.

AX: How many episodes did Peter Farrelly direct?

ZELMAN: The first two.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about LUCKY HANK?

ZELMAN: I would like people to come to our show with an open mind, because what we are doing is something a little bit different, and I think the most rewarding shows always are that. They’re not something you necessarily get in the first two minutes. You might, but I think the longer you watch, the more you’re going to appreciate this show.

LIEBERSTEIN: Yeah. Please stay with it. It’s a little bit different.

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Article: Exclusive Interview:  LUCKY HANK executive producers Paul Lieberstein and Aaron Zelman on new Bob Odenkirk dramedy series



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