'Lucky Hank': How Bob Odenkirk and Mireille Enos escape the darkness of earlier roles in new comedy

No getting around it: Bob Odenkirk is one lucky guy. 

There was the triumphant sendoff last August of AMC's "Better Call Saul," a show that has so far netted the actor five Emmy nominations. Before that, he survived a life-threatening "widowmaker" heart attack in July 2021 while filming that final season. Last year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in January he was feted as 2023 Man of the Year by Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals, an honor shared by Paul Rudd, Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman – not bad company,

And now, one more piece of luck: "Lucky Hank," his new one-hour comedy premiering Sunday (9 EDT/PDT) on AMC.

"I wanted to do something that was fundamentally different from 'Saul,'" Odenkirk says in an interview. "I loved Saul so much, but the world he lived in was extremely tense, turbulent and filled with some pretty dark emotions and drives, like retribution, resentment, loneliness."

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Mireille Enos as Lily, left, and Bob Odenkirk as Hank in AMC's "Lucky Hank."

"Lucky Hank" swings hard in the opposite direction. The adaptation of Richard Russo's 1997 novel "Straight Man" stars Odenkirk as Hank Devereaux, the creatively frustrated English department chair of Railton College in Pennsylvania (or, as Hank calls it in wry self-deprecation, "mediocrity's capital"). He starts out the eight-episode first season staring down the barrel of a midlife crisis, trying and failing to write his second novel while navigating life with his long-suffering but loving wife Lily, played by Mireille Enos ("The Killing").  

Odenkirk says "Hank" came together very quickly as "Saul" was drawing to a close, and the timing "was a shocker to me. Most things in TV and movies, they do take forever. Even when everybody can't wait to make it and loves it, there's a lot of logistics and a lot of contracts."

While Saul had his darkly funny moments, Hank gives Odenkirk free rein of comedy once again. Hank's an unfiltered truth-teller, rascally and fed up with the status quo in a way that gets him in trouble at home and at work.  In Sunday's premiere, his English department colleagues are  angling to remove Hank as chair. But you can trust Hank not to go down without getting in a sharp quip or two.

Like Odenkirk, Enos craved creative change of pace. It had been a year since she'd said yes to anything, because she was "really in need of something with a drop of hope," she says. In her Emmy-nominated series "The Killing" (2011-14), Enos played homicide detective Sarah Linden, who investigates the mysterious killing of a child. Most recently, she'd had roles on two Amazon Prime series: War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, on "Good Omens," and a CIA operative on "Hanna."

"My daughter wants to sit and watch the things that I've done with me, and she can't!" Enos says. She shares two children, 8 and 12, with husband Alan Ruck ("Succession").

Mireille Enos as Lily in AMC's "Lucky Hank."

Enos turned down many scripts. "I kept saying 'No thank you, no thank you.' And I would go to Alan and say, 'I promise I won't let us starve, I will take a job if I have to,'" Enos says. "But I was really holding out for something like this, that walks that incredible line between real life and the absurdity and comedy of life."

Odenkirk recalls how much fun Enos was when they first met for lunch. "She made me laugh, and she had this great smile and this great laugh," he says. "I said to her, 'How come I've never seen your laugh? I've never seen your smile?' And she goes, 'Well, they don't let me do it.'"

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While Hank's crisis is front and center, Lily is interrogating her own desires, at work and in marriage, as her thwarted professional ambitions have left her a vice principal at a high school in the small town she's long been tethered to by her husband's tenure. 

"Lily has fallen into the trap that women who are wives and mothers sometimes fall into, which is making sure everyone's OK," she says. "Their husband's OK, their daughter's OK, the kids at school are OK, the house is OK."

But all that time, has she been OK?

"I think she's the standout in the same way that Rhea Seehorn (Kim Wexler) was really the standout in 'Better Call Saul,'" Odenkirk says. "Mireille and I, as Lily and Hank, are a more relatable couple. We've got kids, we've worn each other down a little bit, we're supportive of each other, we joke with each other, we tolerate and forgive. And yet we're a little unsure if we should carry on."

Bob Odenkirk as Hank, an English professor in AMC's "Lucky Hank," based on Richard Russo's novel "Straight Man."

Odenkirk will continue embracing the light: In October, he's releasing a children's book, "Zilot & Other Important Rhymes," written with his two children, Erin and Nate, based on poems and stories they made up over the course of their childhoods as they read books together. Erin, now a 22-year-old artist, illustrated the book. Odenkirk says it's already the thing he's most proud of – even more than HBO's cult sketch-comedy series "Mr. Show." Hopefully it will help put "Saul" and its demons even further in the rearview mirror. 

"Playing that part was hard," Odenkirk says. "It just asked a lot of me, to mess around with feelings inside myself that were not always easy to access or not necessarily something you want to wallow in. But that was my job. I'm still getting over it. I won't watch that finale (again) for a while, probably for a couple of years."

In the meantime, there's "Hank" to help lighten the load. "It was so stinking fun to make," Enos says. 

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