review

Hacks season three: Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder return in spiky comedy

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Hacks season three premieres on May 3.
Hacks season three premieres on May 3. Credit: Stan/Max

If Hacks had just been a series about the generational conflict between a Boomer comedian and a Gen Y writer, it would’ve skated along with plenty of recognisable scenarios. You would’ve chuckled and then, in all likelihood, forgotten about it.

The harder thing to do is to craft a hilarious series that takes that premise and turns it into a story with real pathos and raw emotions about how people connect, and don’t connect, despite and because of the seeming chasm between them.

On paper, Hacks traffics in archetypes but its writing and performances have depth and compassion, which makes its world vivid yet grounded, despite the heightened stakes and its willingness to highlight how ridiculous the entertainment industry is.

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For the uninitiated, when the series started, Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) was an ageing stand-up comic whose Las Vegas residency is more than a little tired. The same audiences shuffle in and out of her show while she continues to hock poor quality wares on the home shopping channel.

In a bid to reinvent her act on the threat of losing her residency, Deborah hires Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a young comedy writer with a penchant for acts of self-sabotage.

Hacks season three premieres on May 3.
Generation gap but not an empathy gap. Credit: Stan/Max

The two shouldn’t get along, and they don’t — Deborah is frustrated at Ava’s messiness and ill-fitting bras while Ava bumps up against Deborah’s arrogance and seeming self-centredness. But while there is a genuine generational gap, there is no empathy gap.

What Hacks does incredibly well is it takes these two characters it pushes them together and pulls them apart. They recognise each other’s loneliness but also their talent, and their shared sense of humour. Their love is prickly because, as characters, they’re complicated.

It’s not a linear path.

Over the first two seasons, there are loads of ups and downs in their relationship. One moment they’re getting on like they’re the same brain and then someone pushes the other one away, usually because of their own insecurities.

In the third season, delayed because of the Hollywood strikes, Deborah’s renewed fame has thrust her back onto the A-list – she’s on the Time 100, she’s been feted and awarded — but her ambition and past means there’s still something more she wants, and that is in part because Ava had convinced her she was better than what she settled for.

Hacks season three premieres on May 3.
Hacks season three stars Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder. Credit: Stan/Max

Ava is also finally in a “good place”, in theory. She’s in a healthy relationship with an actor and is writing for a hot comedy show. But the two are like magnets to each other, unable to resist the other’s force. It’s a bit Stockholm-y.

Hacks weaves many other elements into its story — the challenges of getting older in an industry that is always looking for the next big thing, the marks bad parenting leaves on us — and this season features guest stars ranging from Helen Hunt and Christina Hendricks to Tony Goldwyn and Christopher Lloyd.

But at its core, Hacks is a character-driven story about two women who want to create something great and who just want to mean something to somebody — but preferably to a lot of somebodies.

Hacks season three premieres on Stan on Friday, May 3

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