Hacks Season 3

Hacks Season 3
Hacks Season 3
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In Hacks Season 3, the madness has worn off. But do not let that fool you: This Emmy-winning comedy is still at the top of its game, and may just be putting forth its strongest work yet. That’s saying something for a series that’s coming out of an extended cliffhanger — one that was prompted by what happened at the end of Season 2, complicated further by two Hollywood strikes and Jean Smart’s heart surgery.

The show seems to have escaped those setbacks entirely, as creators/co-showrunners Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky deliver a dazzling new installment that plumbs deeper into interpersonal relationships than ever before, and starts to explore why these characters are motivated to grow (or fall apart). Season 2 closed with veteran stand-up comic Deborah Vance (Smart) firing the young writer who had helped her emerge from a creative slump. Releasing Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) would allow the ambitious wordsmith to shine in different ways, but for us viewers it also split up one of our favorite sparring TV duos.

Fueled by a one-year time jump — which thankfully, perhaps shockingly, undoes everything — Season 3 finds Deborah still riding high on the waves of her successful stand-up special with Ava, and now eyeing an opportunity of a lifetime. Meanwhile Ava has become a co-producer on trendy topical news show Last Week Tonight — also enjoying her live-in girlfriend Sky Mallon (who stars in a superhero series) much more than she lets on. So really: The pair has moved on… right?

Wrong. At Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival — where they both happen to have shows this year — an accidental run-in in an elevator changes everything. Suddenly Deborah and Ava are face-to-face again. They exchange pleasantries. It’s awkward; after all, they had been so wickedly intertwined while plotting Deborah’s big comeback. They also know what’s underneath. Deborah can’t help but notice Ava’s questionable attire. Ava can’t shake the fact that Deborah never texted her back for nearly a year — and when the elevator door opens, Deborah says goodbye and heads to her room.

But Ava isn’t going down or up. She finds herself knocking on Deborah’s door — and once she gets inside the hotel room, it doesn’t take long for their emotional walls to crumble and let each other have it.

This less-than-cute re-meet creates ripple effects neither Deborah nor Ava saw coming: When an opportunity arises for Deborah to become the new host of a popular nighttime talk show, she jumps at it; Ava is on hiatus from her show; maybe they could collaborate here? Next thing we know, they’re back at it — comically bouncing ideas off each other, giddily texting through all hours of the day and night, creating great material — but there’s something different about this iteration of Deborah and Ava. For one thing, Ava is more grounded than we’ve ever seen her before; they meet each other on more neutral ground (and trust us: The show handles that with such nuance); it brings a new kind of creative maturity to the outing overall; and also some real-life believability that winds itself through the entire season.

Let’s start with Ava’s girlfriend, who finds it shocking that she would even think of returning to Deborah. This in turn sets off all of Ava’s problems with commitment in relationships. Over at Deborah’s, there are several personal storylines that force her to confront her past actions and take responsibility for them or continue holding onto resentments.

One involves her relationship with her recovering addict daughter, DJ (Kaitlin Olson, worthy of an Emmy nom), the other with her sister, Kathy (J. Smith-Cameron), a lifelong thorn in her side. Her ex left Deborah for Kathy and the running gag is that Deborah burned down her sisters’ house because of it (not true). That split came when Deborah was up for a big TV show gig but everything went south after that. So this current opportunity is extra potent. Could DEBORAH VANCE be the first female late-night talk show host?

Meanwhile Jimmy (Downs) and Kayla (Meg Stalter), Deborah and Ava’s L.A. managers — the best quirky platonic duo — have grown also. Jimmy has learned to accept Kayla’s eccentricities and Kayla seems to have tapped into some sort of unique superpower within herself. They bring a great touch of wackiness to the season overall; Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) continues to grow as well, but there has been leading him toward considering new frontiers this season is lovely for him as a character . There is one Palm Springs-centered episode where he oversees part of Deborah’s branding which is downright hilarious.

If you’re wondering if the comedy still measures up – it does. More so than ever before…Jean Smart will get another Emmy nomination and/or win. She is one of our finest comedic actresses working today and she has created an iconic TV character here with Deborah Vance . Hannah Einbinder is on fire creatively this season having hit her stride nicely filling out all the complexities of her ever-evolving character.

Themes this season include misogyny, ageism, LGBTQ+ diversity, and the madcap swirl of unpredictability that befalls show business. Look for a scene-stealing turn from guest star Helen Hunt playing a no-nonsense exec who could be a valuable ally for Deborah — Christina Hendricks and Christopher Lloyd pop in too to our delight.

Bottom line: Hacks Season 3 has become a show that knows itself and is proud of it. Like many great comedies that found their footing in seasons two or beyond (Schitt’s Creek, Will & Grace, Better Things), this season feels like a brand-new show; I would watch several more seasons of these hilarious misadventures. And…wait for it because the final five minutes of this season will have you on your seat. It’s brilliant.

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