Hacks Fires On All Cylinders for Its Third (and Best) Season

Comedy Reviews Hacks
Hacks Fires On All Cylinders for Its Third (and Best) Season

We’ve waited two long years for Hacks Season 3, but thankfully this new run of episodes more than makes up for lost time.

At the end of the last season, Deborah (Jean Smart) fired Ava (Hannah Einbinder) on the heels of the special’s success, urging her to be a “shark” and pursue her own work. “I told you—you’re just like me. You got your own mountain to climb,” Deborah reminded her. If you love something, let it go, and all that jazz.

Fast forward a year later, and Deborah’s on top of the world: walking the red carpet, being dubbed one of Time 100’s most influential people of the year, and surrounded by sycophants. She’s cut off Ava in the meantime, not answering any of her texts until the pair unwittingly bump into each other at Just For Laughs Montreal. Ava is, ostensibly, doing well without Deborah. She’s living with her hot actor girlfriend Ruby (Lorenza Izzo) and works as a writer-slash-co-producer for On the Contrary with Lewis Benton (basically The Daily Show). But the moment the two cross paths again, it’s clear that they miss each other; Deborah needs someone who will be brutally honest with her (as opposed to the sea of “yes men” her fame’s generated), and Ava wants the fulfillment she gets from working and spending time with the comedy veteran. Ava finds her way back on Deborah’s payroll as they push for the latter to achieve her dream of hosting a late-night talk show, and we’re off to the races.

Their relationship is fraught, of course, and the season zeroes in on the push-and-pull of their very strange, intense dynamic. Smart and Einbinder’s chemistry, and the writers’ keen plotting, make Deborah and Ava the most compelling pairing on television. Hacks confronts the uncomfortable truth that a healthy partnership is not a prerequisite for success. In fact, the obsessive, all-consuming nature of art means it’s often the opposite. The show has explored the self-centered, workaholic mentality needed to “make it” in Hollywood from day one, and yet ambitious people like Ava and Deborah still crave connection; it’s only natural that they’re drawn to each other. And the third season makes it clear that they’ve changed each other—in many ways, but not entirely, for the better. Ava’s conscientious millennial/Gen-Z cusp perspective rubs off on Deborah, who’s more understanding than before, and Deborah’s cutthroat attitude certainly makes an impression on Ava. While these are threads the show’s followed before, the writers keep things fresh. For example, in one of the season’s best episodes, “One Day,” the duo venture outside the bright lights of the stage and Deborah’s palatial home to hash out their issues; the two end up lost in the woods both literally and metaphorically after a hike gone awry. The wickedly funny yet emotionally resonant writing and the excellent performances from Smart and Einbinder ensure that Hacks plumbs these heavier depths while also keeping the laughs. 

Deborah and Ava may be the show’s magnetic core, but they’re the sun in a solar system of dazzling planets; Hacks is an ensemble comedy at heart. Kayla (Megan Stalter) and Jimmy’s (Paul W. Downs) dynamic shines in Season 3 as they attempt to get Deborah the late-night job. We’re so lucky to get to tag along for their zany antics, and Jimmy’s eternal exasperation perfectly complements Kayla’s incredible one-liners (including “Me trustfund es su trustfund”). The writers have perfectly nailed Kayla’s voice, and Stalter’s off-kilter cadence makes everything that much funnier. Deborah’s housekeeper Josefina (Rose Abdoo of Gilmore Girls fame), put-upon assistant Damien (Mark Indelicato), and Ava’s scatterbrained mother Nina (Jane Adams) all return to steal scenes. DJ (Kaitlin Olson) has a particularly standout role this season, with her pregnancy giving Deborah the impetus to reconnect with her sister Kathy after decades of estrangement. Olson carefully treads that line of cartoonishly ridiculous and searingly desperate as DJ, and the show’s handling of Deborah’s Christmastime reunion with her sister feels so utterly real. Deborah may be aware of her shortcomings, as detailed in her special, but awareness must be accompanied by action to be worth a damn. 

Hacks also addresses the state of comedy these days in a way that feels relevant and poignant. While it may not be the most accurate portrayal of the stand-up world, Hacks has always been interested in the comedy zeitgeist; hell, the first season opens up with Ava losing a writing job over a controversial tweet. This time around, Deborah comes under fire when her racist jokes from the past resurface. As Ava rightfully notes to Deborah, no one is really “canceled,” but the timing isn’t ideal for a comic that’s gunning for one of the industry’s biggest jobs. Deborah’s initial response to the criticism and her eventual decision showcase why the relationship between her and Ava is so vital to the show. Oftentimes topical commentary on TV feels shoehorned in or out of date; Hacks commits neither of these sins, instead elevating the conversation it joins.  

Meticulously plotted and boasting some of the show’s best jokes, Season 3 of Hacks will have you panting for the next series as the final credits roll.

Hacks Season 3 premieres on Max on May 2.

Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin