Categories: TV Reviews

‘Hacks’ Season 3 Review: HBO’s Best Comedy Series is Fiercer and Funnier Than Ever

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While first seasons can feel awkward and sophomore seasons test the consistency of the narrative, a third season of television proves the longevity of a series. A great third outing of television allows an audience moments with characters that show the necessity of the show’s continuation while also being provided the opportunity to breathe, the first two seasons presumably having introduced most of the main qualities of central characters that allows the third to focus on the story unfolding. MAX’s Hacks finally comes back for its third season on May 2, a triumphant return from one of television’s best comedies that sees its most confident season yet.

Last season ended with Deborah (Emmy winner Jean Smart) effectively firing Ava (Emmy nominee Hannah Einbinder) to push her towards pursuing larger avenues of success for herself. The sophomore season saw Deborah threatening litigation against Ava for its entirety, the end an earned nod to the two’s organically built, if not complicated, relationship. When season three begins, it has been a year since the two women have seen each other: Deborah’s good will with her audience pushing laughs out of them even in build-ups to her punchline, Ava now writing on a well-known series and making an impact on her boss. Deborah has two new Gen Z writers, but that’s the only novelty in her entourage: Jimmy (Emmy winner Paul W. Downs) and Kayla (Meg Stalter) still represent her, while Marcus (Emmy nominee Carl Clemons-Hopkins) still manages pretty much everything else. He’s at a breaking point working under Deborah with constant work and little gratitude, so he explores what his future could look like with less of her in it. Deborah and Ava are pushed into seeing one another early on, slightly forced but immediately forgivable to see Smart and Einbinder reunite on screen. Even when the second season felt a little less focused than the previous, these two together never allow a dull moment. Their first real interaction this season involves Ava voicing her opinion on a certifiably terrible dress that Deborah plans on wearing to an event, the comedian keen that the garment is gorgeous, Ava requesting a homosexual bellhop to voice his real opinion on it while Deborah’s in the bathroom. 

It doesn’t take long for Hacks to get these ladies back together because as soon as Deborah positions herself into moving towards a new path in her career, Ava is back in her employment. The two embark on a journey that sees Deborah attempting her dream job of hosting a late night show, something alluded to in past seasons, with Ava doing anything she can to impress her former, and now current, boss. It’s Deborah’s vision to be on one of these shows, so watching fine tune herself in this atmosphere provides new insight into her character. The first meeting of Deborah and Ava this season feels a little forced, but the two have unimaginable chemistry together that is only solidified by every joke, every interaction, and every episode. After a truce on jokes about Ava’s physical appearance, Deborah has her maid, Josephina (Rose Abdoo), come in and recite some jabs at Ava for her. The two laughing together is part of the fun as their relationship buds into a healthier working one, seemingly, as they push into new territory. The season is complete with a Roast of Deborah Vance that brings the funniest repetitive use of the c-word since Veep’s “C**tgate” episode in 2016. Hacks is a comedy about comedy, which could be a pitfall as the show offers an incisive perspective about the set-up and execution of jokes before providing striking examples of them, a Polanski joke in the premiere episode being such an example. 

Hacks also has the ability to see the connection between its two central characters and manipulate it, forcing the women to reckon with their own negative qualities brought out by the other as the usual tension starts simmering beneath the surface of their relationship. Creators and showrunners Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky showcase patience by letting issues trickle into the middle of the two, not forcing unnecessary spats or digs between them until it feels genuine. The funniest series on television also provides insightful commentary on relationships between creatives while working towards something, specifically two women searching for individuality and dream achievement in the face of an insanely competitive career field. Seeing Deborah fawn over Bob Lipka (Tony Goldwyn, Scandal) for his looks and power as a CEO only makes her more relatable, but Bob is the CEO of the network that has an open late night position. Ava’s journey comes more into focus in Einbinder’s careful hands as she attempts to leave her mark on comedy writing, clearly feeling unnoticed and misunderstood by those in her life, desperate for the validation and attention from someone like Deborah. Deborah’s gained so much attention that audiences fawn over her every quip, whether or not it’s actually funny or even a joke. Jean Smart is glorious as the legendary comedian, every line acidically hilarious coming from her while she also crafts a character that’s personality conceals the pain caused by the life she’s lived and the people she’s loved, including the sister that slept with her husband. Ava and Deborah together are a fascinating blend of two people that shouldn’t understand each other, but really do based on similarities in life circumstances. 

The series operates on the highest level in every department for this season, nothing stopping Hacks in its quest to cross the eventual finish line as one of the great comedy series. Emmy winning director Lucia Aniello also helms several episodes in addition to her showrunning duties, a specific flair to Aniello’s episodes that showcase her directorial maturation since directing episodes of Broad City, a precision to scenes that land jokes in quick succession with coverage that frames the situation perfectly. Moments spent mouth fully ajar at guest stars is to be expected, as this season steps up the ante by having Christopher Lloyd as someone Jimmy and Kayla are courting for a potential career-changing screenplay they hope to get produced. Emmy nominee J. Smith Cameron also comes to the series in a secret role that sees Deborah attempting an emotional connection stronger than she’s had before, if she can manage to not ruin it. There is no other comedy on television that has Helen Hunt as a network executive with some of the most amusing dedication to competition seen in recent years, adding some incredible scenes with Jimmy and Kayla on the pickleball court that provide the most time with her, if all too brief. It’s exciting to see a series that has, truthfully, always been great only grow its reach into excellence. There’s a certain sense created by watching the episodes that every person that writes on the show, all the directors, and every performer – along with every member of the crew – puts their entire craft into the creation of these episodes. The jokes come quickly, a great opportunity to discover new jokes during rewatches that you might have missed in the original viewing because of laughter. It’s incredibly fun to watch Hacks settle into this level of comedy, only made better with this season ending on a delicious cliffhanger that promises audiences an even greater time next season.

MAX’s best series returns for its third season and promises audiences another hilarious ride with Jean Smart in the driver’s seat and Einbinder in the back, where Deborah would put her. Even after a second season that dipped only slightly after a great first outing, the third season brings the series to new heights with an assured ensemble possessing the confidence of veteran performers. The creators of the series have provided the series with longevity by never being afraid of steering the narrative towards something novel and possibly meatier by taking risks. Hacks is a series that could run for several more and it would only be considered a gift to audiences everywhere.

Grade: A

The first two episodes of Hacks‘ 9-episode third season premiere May 2 with double episodes weekly through May 30.

Tyler Doster

Tyler is the TV Awards Editor for AwardsWatch and from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He’s been obsessed with movies and the oscars since he was about 14. He enjoys reading, but even more, talking about Amy Adams more and will, at any given moment, bring up her Oscar snub for Arrival. The only thing he spends more time on than watching TV is sitting on Twitter. If you ever want to discuss the movie Carol at length, he’s your guy. You can find Tyler at @wordswithtyler

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