Bob Odenkirk Stars in ‘Lucky Hank’ on AMC

Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk stays put at AMC for 'Lucky Hank', new dark comedy about a college professor suffering through a midlife crisis

Dire education

In one of the first scenes of Lucky Hank, students enrolled in a writing class at a low-rent Pennsylvania college seek feedback from their checked-out professor—a failed novelist turned English teacher whose interest in their writing seems half-hearted at best. What they get is a rare moment of honesty from Hank Devereaux, Jr. (Bob Odenkirk), whose rant about the mediocrity of the school, students and even himself sets in motion something of a spiral that could force Hank to do something—anything—else with his life. But will it? Or will Hank continue to teach at an underfunded college, battling millennials on the daily, while navigating his own internal ambivalence about the state of his career? 

Taking on the series adaptation of Richard Russo’s 1997 novel Straight Man was for series co-creator Paul Lieberstein, a writer and actor on The Office, a chance to examine the hilarity of another type of workplace. “Part of it came from The Office. Like, ‘I’d like to do this with smarter people,’ maybe,” he quips. “And at the same time, I love this idea about tenure where you are trapped in success. You can’t leave that job, so it just allows people to behave very badly in a semi-protected way. It really felt like this was a great opportunity.” 

Lucky HankAMCIt was also a chance to explore a midlife crisis that includes nary a sportscar nor mistress. In fact, Hank’s wonderful wife Lily, played by The Killing’s Mireille Enos, is the one high point in his life. It was also part of what drew Odenkirk to the role. “I liked this guy,” the actor reflects. “As crabby as he is, I like that this guy loved his wife and she loved him. I liked that he loved his daughter and even though they fight, she loves him. I like the humour of him. He’s funny, and he knows he’s being funny.” 

After 10 years on AMC playing Saul Goodman, Odenkirk was open to other opportunities at the network that brought us Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and, of course, The Walking Dead. “I could be any kind of zombie I wanted to be,” he jokes. Yet Hank Devereaux, says Odenkirk, is a different kind of living dead. “I guess he zombified himself. He cast a spell on himself and shut himself down years ago. But he’s coming back to life, and that’s what the show’s about, from my point of view.” 

Lucky HankAMCWhile his previous series used humour mostly to inject some levity into the darkest of material, Lucky Hank deploys its silliness more overtly. “I mean, Saul was very funny at times, obviously, but he wasn’t aware of how funny he was,” says Odenkirk. “He wasn’t part of the joke, whereas Hank gets to be the wisecracker and gets to laugh at his situation while he suffers it too.” 

While that sort of sharp comedy also appealed to Enos, the actress initially was not convinced she had the chops to portray a vice principal. “I remember an early conversation with these guys where I said I’m allergic to authority figures,” she explains. Yet, the creators convinced her that Lily was a different kind of VP. “She came up through psychology, and she is really curious about the nature of intelligence, and she really wants to help these kids. She has these ideals about learning being beautiful. And then, she ends up being behind a desk, and that’s not always fun. Vice principals have to fill out a lot of paperwork.” 

Lucky HankAMCIndeed, as it turns out, Hank is not alone in his crisis. “Lily’s on her own little midlife spiral, trying to figure out what the next phase of her life is supposed to be and who that includes,” says Enos. “It’s the thing that drew me to the show the most, as I was at this moment in my life where I’m like: I want to tell a story about human beings, and the things that we worry about in these middle moments of our life, and the ridiculousness of actual life. Life is absurd, you know?” 

Lucky HankAMCIf anyone understands both the brevity and absurdity of life, it is Odenkirk, who in 2021 had a heart attack while at work on Better Call Saul. That experience has forced the actor to think about how best to use the time still left. “My growth, or whatever may come from that heart attack, I’m still in the middle of it,” he says. “For me, it’s still resonating in my life. A very serious subject to me right now is trying to balance work-life, because I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet. And I have to do a better job because we don’t get to carry on forever. I want to make the right choices so I can feel like I’m doing the best I can with the time I have left for the things that I love in this world. I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet, but I’m working on it.”

Lucky Hank premieres Sunday, March 19 on AMC