Skip to main content

Lucky Hank stars Bob Odenkirk as Professor 'Hank' Devereaux, Jr., the unlikely chairman of an English department at a badly underfunded college who becomes increasingly unhinged navigating the dysfunctional chaos of personal and academic life.Courtesy of AMC

Can Bob Odenkirk pull off a TV trifecta? AMC is certainly banking on it. After a decade of playing fan favourite lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad and its prequel, Better Call Saul, Odenkirk is tackling a new acting challenge. And he’s returning to familiar stomping grounds to do it.

Equipped with a new beard and softer-looking, grey hair, Odenkirk resumes the top spot on the call sheet for Lucky Hank. AMC’s new hybrid comedy-drama (Odenkirk cringes at the term “dramedy”) debuts not even a year after Better Call Saul’s series finale.

Based on Richard Russo’s novel Straight Man, the eight-episode series is an exploration of the white male midlife crisis. It’s set at an underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt (but filmed in Vancouver), and hones in on English department chair William Henry Devereaux Jr., a.k.a. Hank (Odenkirk).

Unlike the novel, the series expands past a single week in this man’s life as he deals with difficult colleagues and students, emerging cracks in his marriage to Lily (Mireille Enos), and a new sense of self. Should it hit with viewers, co-creators Paul Lieberstein (The Office) and Aaron Zelman (The Killing) plan to expand the show past the novel’s end point into multiple seasons.

The series expands past a single week in a professor's life as he deals with difficult colleagues and students.Courtesy of AMC

On one hand it’s a relationship series; on the other it’s a workplace comedy with professors. At the centre of it all is Hank, whose lifelong cynicism and patriarchal trauma have finally exhausted those around him.

“He zombified himself,” Odenkirk riffs during a press conference, alluding to AMC’s other love: zombies. “He cast a spell on himself and shut himself down years ago. But he’s coming back to life.”

The show has been multiple years in the making. Sony snagged rights to the novel and considered Zelman to develop it due to a deal he had there. But it wasn’t until Lieberstein boarded that the project gained any traction. The pair began working on early drafts, but Lucky Hank remained in TV purgatory for five more years until 2021, when Odenkirk expressed interest.

“Everybody thinks we developed it for him, but the truth was he was just a perfect fit,” Lieberstein tells The Globe. “We never thought of him because he wasn’t available. He was never even on the list.”

Once he was on that list, AMC sprang into action. The cabler had initially expressed interest in the project, but over the years it had fallen off. “Once Bob got involved, suddenly they were interested in making a deal again,” says Zelman.

With Saul off the air, The Walking Dead wrapped, and no clear critical or ratings smashes on the current schedule, the former home of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Killing could use a win. So it’s leaning on franchise hits (The Walking Dead: Dead City debuts in June), IP with built-in audiences (like Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches), and one of its most familiar faces in Odenkirk.

Lucky Hank is Odenkirk's first real chance to extend the acting chops he learned opposite greats like Bryan Cranston.Courtesy of AMC

Other projects on the horizon include a series from Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black based on the Bannerman spy books, a second season of Interview With the Vampire and two more Walking Dead spinoffs.

“Rising inflation, a challenging ad market, too many shows and an overreliance on streaming metrics that don’t necessarily deliver profitability have caused most content companies, including ourselves, to take stock and recalibrate their path forward,” AMC Entertainment and AMC Studios president Dan McDermott revealed at the Television Critics Association press tour in January.

“We will continue to do what we do best, work with immensely talented creatives to make shows and build franchises that fans love and make a focal point of their lives.”

For Odenkirk, a two-time Emmy winning writer, Lucky Hank is a little more personal. It’s his first real chance to extend the acting chops he learned opposite greats like Bryan Cranston, Michael McKean and Rhea Seehorn. “I always performed, not acted, until I got Breaking Bad,” Odenkirk explains. “Then I had to learn how to act. Quick. Right now … and it was very hard. It was really, really tough.”

Lead actor Emmy nominations for five of the six seasons Saul was on-air indicate Odenkirk is a quick study. Still, the real test for the actor may lie in Lucky Hank, with a new tone and different writers, plus fresh actors to share the screen with.

“He really approached this as an actor and thought about living in this role,” Lieberstein recalls. “He gave himself a little fake belly and dove in like a trained actor would. It’s not generally the way a classic comedy actor does it. He really gave it a lot of thought.”

Mireille Enos as Lily in Lucky Hank.Courtesy of AMC

Fans may be wary to hear about the actor putting that kind of pressure on himself, particularly following his heart attack in July, 2021. Zelman recalls his phone ringing with the news the weekend before he and the team were going out with the show pitch.

“My first reaction was ‘Oh my God, I hope he’s okay.’ My next thought was, ‘There goes Straight Man,’” he says. “We really thought it was over. Two weeks later we heard he had fully recovered and he was ready to go out and pitch. His reps got him on the phone, I think we heard from him while he was leaving the hospital, and he was on the phone with his wife and making jokes about having been dead for like six minutes.”

Odenkirk can’t recall any of it. He says he has trouble remembering exactly what happened in the weeks that followed. “Some people say it was like a mechanism, like a self-protective thing,” he explains.

“I was weirdly upbeat after that heart attack for a long time … It’s still resonating in my life [and] that’s a very serious subject to me right now, trying to find work-life balance. I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet.”

Lucky Hank debuts March 19 on AMC.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.