The story behind Ava's wall of fake EW covers on Hacks

·7 min read

Warning: This article contains spoilers from the season 1 finale of Hacks.

The season finale of Hacks was emotionally explosive as Deborah (Jean Smart) and Ava (Hannah Einbinder) had it out in epic fashion, with insults - not to mention a slap across the face - flying. But, in the end, the two made amends, with plans to take Deborah's (new) act on the road.

The dynamic (and dysfunctional) duo finally came together in a touching scene back in Ava's bedroom… a bedroom filled with Entertainment Weekly covers. And while they may have looked real, these phony-baloney EW covers were actually created specifically for the show by Hacks production designer Jon Carlos and graphic designer Graham Ratliff. The good news? We've got the full set of 12 below, along with some fun facts about how they were put together.

"It was actually a scripted element," says Carlos of the EW covers on Ava's wall. "The creators of the show had certain specific elements in the script to basically structure the history of Ava's childhood bedroom. One of the scenes read that she opened up her eyes to the cast of True Blood staring back at her. Then as the camera pulls back, the wall is littered with Entertainment Weekly covers."

So what would those covers be? "Knowing that Ava's 25, we kind of backtracked," says Carlos. "What would her high school years have been when she was still living at the house? What would her interests have been? We basically came up with the theme of each cover."

"A lot of that was mimicking covers of the past," adds Ratliff. "So that was not too difficult, to try to pull verbiage and things like that, because when I saw the script and it said 'covered with Entertainment Weeklys,' it was such a great reference because I was that person in high school with my bedroom covered with covers and articles that I had cut out from Entertainment Weekly. So I instantly knew, 'Okay, I know what they're going for here.'"

Here, the 12 fake EW covers that made it into the episode, along with notes on each.

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

Since the show's budget would only allow the production team to purchase images of a few real celebrities, Carlos and Ratliff had to rely on stock images from a photography clearing house. "I think there was the briefest discussion of 'are we going to use real ones?'" says Ratliff. "But with all the hoops to clear all the photographers and stuff, that wasn't going to happen."

So how did they find the majority of their cover stars? "We have a subscription to I-stock," Ratliff says. "It has different images that we know are free and clear to use." But having to fashion their own stars also gave the Hacks team license to have some fun and establish their own properties, like something called… The Journal Diaries? "It just seems like a CW show, doesn't it?" says Ratliff. "I liked this one quite a bit. I would watch that."

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"This one was supposed to look like Lady Gaga," says Ratliff. And we say: Mission accomplished.

"Another [factor in] how we created a lot of the covers was, we had a very controlled color palette on the show," says Carlos. "Thematically, each character had a color palette. So Ava's color palette was generally in, like, baby blues, and we would try to use hints of orange that complimented her hair color, which in and of itself, are a contrast in colors. Then as the season progressed, Deborah's colors were pink and green when you see her environments. As we get towards other parts of the season, we started fusing the colors together.

"So in Ava's room, it was a baby-blue wallpaper. But then there were little pink roses, and you see parts of Deborah popping in. So even with the covers that Graham created, we restricted it to the color palette, and muted and pushed back all the color tones. I think that was another reason we ended up creating a lot of the covers - so that it worked within our environment in a controlled way."

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

Behold your new favorite Swedish pop duo that doesn't actually exist: Två Sångare! And what does that band name translate to, you may ask? Says Ratliff with a laugh: "That's Swedish for 'two singers.'"

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"I think Jon had said, 'This is the beginning of the boom of superheroes,'" says Ratliff. "So we knew there had to be a superhero cover in there somewhere. That one is probably the most directly modeled from [what I found] when I was digging through [old covers]. It's like the reveal of Captain America and the first photos of Chris Evans in his suit. And the color palette worked really well with what Jon was going for. I just needed to pull the reds out slightly and it was perfect."

And who exactly is Rachel Aguirre, the woman cast as Captain Dynama? "She's one of our art directors," reveals Carlos. "We tend to like to honor the whole crew subtly whenever there's a use of names. They're the unspoken heroes. We've done it throughout the season. It was like when Ava is in the employee cafeteria in episode 2: For the employee stars behind them, we put all the crew members' names, people that sometimes aren't often credited."

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

Hacks art department coordinator Corrin Beattie was hoping to lock in an Oscar nomination, at least according to this fake EW cover. But, says Ratliff, "Sadly, she did not end up winning. So, that's a bummer for her."

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"I was thinking, 'Well, I know James Bond is always something worthy of a cover,'" says Ratliff. "'So let's see if we can get a spy-type thing.'"

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"Sibling Rivalry is another show we came up with," says Ratliff of their tribute to EW's annual Fall TV Preview issue. And while we're happy to see The Carrie Diaries made the cut as a cover line, we're sorry to see that The Journal Diaries, unfortunately, did not.

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

Not Fiona Apple. Just Fiona. But close enough. And that's the point.

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"Jesse McCartney was a funny one the writers were tickled by," says Ratliff.

"That one actually had to do with the actress, Hannah," adds Carlos. "That was a gift to her." Does that mean Einbinder is a hard-core Jesse McCartney stan? "I will neither confirm nor deny," says Carlos.

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"I'll just take the dagger on Mean Girls," says Carlos. "That was all me. I felt that if someone cannot relate to Mean Girls, then they're lying. I mean, I remember when it came out, I was living in an apartment with three of my college friends and all four of us guys came from completely different walks of life and we were all obsessed with that movie. So if a viewer can't relate to that, then they probably haven't seen it."

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"[Co-creator] Jen Statsky threw out the LMFAO idea," says Carlos.

"Entertainment Weekly always puts the subject over the actual masthead," says Ratliff. "I was looking for things that would work with that, with hair, so LMFAO would go over it and all the elements were there to make it feel real, so it wasn't just, 'here's the message, here's a photo underneath it.'"

Courtesy of HBO Max and Universal Television

"The writers gave us a list of things they thought Ava would be into," says Ratliff. "But everything comes down to time and budget. I think we knew as far as purchased images, we could only maybe do four or something like that. It was like picking the ones that we thought, 'Okay, this will read easiest.' Twilight is something that would read almost instantly. You're going to recognize Edward and Bella."

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