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TV Review: ‘Hacks’ Season 3

TV Review: ‘Hacks’ Season 3

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in 'Hacks' Season 3.

(L to R) Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Beth Dubber/Max.

Debuting on HBO and Max with the first two episodes of its third season on May 2nd, ‘Hacks’ returns to our screens with more outrageousness from Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance and more conflicted, panicky support from Hannah Einbinder’s Ava.

While Smart continues to be the focus, Einbinder still proves she’s right there with her on the acting side of things, while the wider ensemble also brings fun elements to the story.

Related Article: Oscar-winner Helen Hunt Talks Starz’s ‘Blindspotting’ Season 2

Is ‘Hacks’ still a standup act?

Jean Smart in 'Hacks' Season 3.

Jean Smart in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Max.

If you were worried that ‘Hacks’ might be going off the boil in this third season, the new run of episodes (we’ve seen the whole season) proves that the creative team and cast still has what it takes to deliver consistent comedy.

Though one or two storylines might be getting a little more tired at this point, the vast majority of the narrative is still great, with Smart in particular able to deliver the killer lines she’s handed with all the attitude she has brought previously. Deborah Vance remains a fascinating creation –– ferociously funny, but also overbearing and, at times, monstrous. This season, the story explores more of her human side and vulnerability.

Hannah Einbinder’s Ava, meanwhile, continues to walk the line between sympathetic and annoying, her rekindled relationship with her ex-girlfriend a combination of grounded and frustrating.

‘Hacks’ Season 3: Script and Direction

Jean Smart, Megan Stalter, and Paul W. Downs in 'Hacks' Season 3.

(L to R) Jean Smart, Megan Stalter, and Paul W. Downs in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Jake Giles Netter/Max.

Created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs (who also appears on screen as Deborah’s embattled manager trying to start his own company) and Jen Statsky, ‘Hacks’ third season maintains the quality level we’ve come to expect from this series, carefully basing its comedy on human reactions while also continuing a solid line in prodding at celebrity excess.

This year’s major throughline includes a brand new potential opportunity for Deborah (one that we won’t spoil here), which allows her to show that even at her level, there are some things even she must truly fight for, especially as a female performer.

There are also some fun moments featuring yet more chaos from her daughter, DJ (Kaitlin Olson), who has her own revelation to drop on her mother, another fertile source for both comedy and drama. As with other storylines, this is powered not just by finding what will make you laugh, but also what will make you feel for these people.

The direction from the likes of Aniello, Downs and Michelle Ouellet continues to be perfectly fine –– unshowy and naturalistic, letting the script and the performances do the heavy lifting.

‘Hacks’ Season 3: Performances

Megan Stalter, Paul W. Downs, Jean Smart, Mark Indelicato and Carl Clemons-Hopkins in 'Hacks' Season 3.

(L to R) Megan Stalter, Paul W. Downs, Jean Smart, Mark Indelicato and Carl Clemons-Hopkins in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Eddy Chen/Max.

You can almost always rely on Jean Smart when she’s given the right sort of material, and Deborah really is a gift to the actress, who deploys nuclear level sarcasm when the moment calls for it, is completely believable as a comedian with a long career behind her (and the chops to power it) and, despite outrageous privilege thanks to her wealth, a hard working person with her own neuroses and issues to deal with. She might have houses in Vegas, LA and elsewhere, and fly where she needs to go via private jet, but she’s also filled with concern about how she hasn’t done right by members of her family.

And as Ava, Einbinder continues to be a human bag of nervy energy, worried about how her life is shaping up and, in the early going, seemingly happy to be out of Deborah’s circle. Their legal issues last season would seem to mean that she’s able to move on, but ‘Hacks’ wouldn’t really be ‘Hacks’ without their dynamic at its heart, so of course she’s back working for her before too long. And thank goodness, as the Ava storyline outside of Deborah, while it has some fun moments, is nowhere near as satisfying.

Hannah Einbinder in 'Hacks' Season 3.

Hannah Einbinder in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Eddy Chen/Max.

Around the main pair orbits their various friends, family, colleagues and hangers-on. Prime among them is Downs’ Jimmy, aided (sometimes) by show breakout Megan Stalter as Kayla, the world’s worst assistant –– now his partner in his new company. While a little of Kayla goes a long way, the writers’ know when to deploy her. And Downs continues to bring Jimmy to life as a constantly frustrated nebbish.

We would also be remiss if we didn’t shout out ‘Succession’ veteran J. Smith Cameron, who here plays Deborah’s long-estranged sister, a character a world away from Gerri Kellman. She’s superb in the role, twitchy and odd, but with clear regret towards what she did to Deborah.

‘Hacks’ Season 3: Final Thoughts

Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Jean Smart in 'Hacks' Season 3.

(L to R) Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Jean Smart in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Beth DubberMax.

‘Hacks’ is back, and that can only be a good thing. Though not everything continues to work as it once did, there is still much to recommend it, even without the Smart factor. It might not push the boundaries in terms of tone and character, but it’s not trying to be something along the lines of ‘Baby Reindeer’.

Taken on its own terms, and thanks to its primary performances, ‘Hacks’ is still one of the best traditional comedies on TV.

‘Hacks Season 3’ receives 7.5 out of 10 stars.


“Another spin in the spotlight.”


TV-MA3 SeasonsMay 13th, 2021

What’s the story of ‘Hacks’ Season 3?

A year after parting, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is riding high off the success of her standup special while Ava (Hannah Einbinder) pursues new opportunities back in Los Angeles.

But as Deborah pursues a new opportunity and Ava returns to her orbit, how will their strained relationship affect their lives?

Who else is in ‘Hacks’ Season 3?

‘Hacks’ main cast also includes Paul W. Downs, Megan Stalter, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Kaitlin Olson, Christopher McDonald, Mark Indelicato, Rose Abdoo and Lorenza Izzo.

This year’s guest stars include J. Smith-Cameron, Helen Hunt, Christina Hendricks, Christopher Lloyd, Dan Bucatinsky, George Wallace and Tony Goldwyn.

Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Jean Smart in 'Hacks' Season 3.

(L to R) Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Jean Smart in ‘Hacks’ Season 3. Photograph: Beth DubberMax.

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