Shortly into the first episode of "Lucky Hank," a new AMC series, ornery English professor, Hank Devereaux, Jr. (Bob Odenkirk), complains that 80 percent of adulthood can be summed up into a single word.
"Who isn't miserable, huh?" Hank asks his wife, Lily (Mireille Enos).
As it turns out, Lily isn't miserable like her husband. Odenkirk says it's their relationship that affects him the most out of everything about the new AMC series, which premieres on March 19.
"It's the deepest thing in the show, but you won't see that for a while," he tells TODAY.com in a sit-down interview following his broadcast apearance. "But if you watch all eight episodes, you'll see how much it's about that relationship."
Based on the book "Straight Man" by Richard Russo, "Lucky Hank" is a dramedy centered around Hank, an ill-tempered college professor in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Fed up with English department he chairs at Railton (a fictional college Hank disdainfully refers to as "mediocrity's capitol"), he goes through the motions of his unfulfilling life, relying on Lily to provide his only spark of joy.
"She helps him even out his crazy and cranky energy and it's great," Odenkirk says. "(But) you shouldn't be that reliant on another person, even your wife."
"We'll see what happens though," he cryptically adds.
Directed by Peter Farrelly ("Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber"), Odenkirk says that ultimately "Lucky Hank" is a journey and that "unlike a lot of TV shows, there’s probably more growth or alteration and change than you’re used to seeing in characters."
Saul Goodman vs. Hank Devereaux
The new AMC series is his first since wrapping up "Better Call Saul" in 2022, another AMC show that earned Odenkirk a range of Emmy nominations for his portrayal of unscrupulous lawyer, Jimmy McGill — better known as Saul Goodman.
After 10 seasons of playing Goodman ("Breaking Bad" included), Odenkirk says the chance to play someone new was "very refreshing."
"I don't understand anybody who goes into show business to play the same character for their whole life," the actor says. "We all want to play so many different people."
And, according to Odenkirk, Hank Devereaux and Saul Goodman are "fundamentally different" people, with Hank being the more relatable character and definitely the funnier of the two.
"Saul was funny, but he didn't know he was being funny," Odenkirk explains. "You were laughing at him mostly."
"When I was Saul," he continues, "the hardest thing was his lack of self-awareness. He was so aware of other people, he was so good at sizing other people up, but couldn't get around his own bulls--t until the very end of the show. He kind of wised up to who he really was, but it took him a long time."
Odenkirk also appreciates that unlike other TV shows, there's "no guns, drugs, zombies, cartels" in "Lucky Hank," but instead "human beings trying to work their jobs and be nice to each other and not get too messed up.
"It's just so fundamentally different from Saul and that's what I wanted to do," he continues.
Living in a van down by the river
Like his on-screen counterpart, Odenkirk is also a writer with his tenure stretching back to the '80s when he began writing and performing on the Mainstage at Chicago's The Second City before landing a steady gig on Saturday Night Live.
Unlike Hank, who scorns mediocrity, Odenkirk says that he believes mediocrity is an important part of the writing process, calling it the "step you have to take before you get to excellence."
"You don't just sit down and write something and it's perfect, unless you're very lucky occasionally," he says. "I've probably written thousands of comedy sketches and I can name the five that I wrote that were exactly what I wanted when I sat down and I wrote it."
At the top of the list? The classic "Motivational Speaker" skit, or as most people know it, "Living in a Van Down by the River."
"That was a scene that I wrote exactly the way you see it," he says.
Long before the skit aired on SNL in 1993, Odenkirk and the late comedian Chris Farley performed the sketch together in Chicago. Odenkirk says it was one of the best times he ever had in show business, and that Farley as Matt Foley made the material "sing."
"Performing that sketch with Chris Farley at Second City was the most fun you could ever have in your life, because he made it a joy every time," Odenkirk says.
"I love Chris so much and I'm so proud to have been a part of that."
The advice he gives his kids about life
Married to wife Naomi Yomtov since 1997, Odenkirk has two children, Nate, 24, and Erin, 22.
In addition to "Lucky Hank," Odenkirk is also collaborating with daughter Erin, an artist, on a new book called "Zilot & Other Important Rhymes," a children's book slated for release in October.
Calling the project "the most important thing in the world to me” during an interview with Hoda Kotb on TODAY, Odenkirk says the book is mix of poems that he and his kids wrote together when they were young. After sitting on a shelf for years, they reworked the poems during the pandemic, added illustrations and turned it into a book.
Now that his kids are well into adulthood, what advice does the seasoned actor have for them?
"Be nice, you're going to see everybody again. Whether you go up or down, you get to see everybody again and again and again ... hopefully," Odenkirk says.
"You don’t know what they did today, what they’re going through, you know, still have to stand up for yourself, but try to have some empathy for people. You don’t really know their story."