In Season Three, the ‘Hacks’ Love Story Gets Sweet, Salty and Sick

Are Deborah and Ava sabotaging their relationships, or have they just already found what they need in each other?
In Season Three, the ‘Hacks’ Love Story Gets Sweet, Salty and Sick

Hacks started out as the story of an aging Boomer comic who’d gotten a little too comfortable in her Las Vegas residency, and a bisexual Gen Z writer who’d made her career radioactive with some spicy tweets. Over its first two seasons, however, what started as a clash of generations, perspectives and footwear choices became, for comic Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), not just mutually beneficial for both their careers, but mutually fulfilling for them both on an emotional level, which, depending on how well they were getting along on a given day, could be either sweet or terrifying. 

Now, with its third season, Hacks gets even deeper into its central love story — or, to be more precise, what two broken people might convince themselves “love” is after pushing everyone else away.

Season Two dragged its characters through hell, from a failure to sell the new special Deborah had struggled to write to the discontinuation of Deborah’s signature scent. But the season closed on a high for both its leads: Deborah self-finances her special; she proves she doesn’t need a streaming partner by selling it on DVD, directly to her millions of fans, from her berth at QVC; and she kindly fires Ava, freeing her to pursue other opportunities. If that had turned out to be the series finale, I would have been disappointed not to get more, but impressed that creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs (who also co-stars as Deborah and Ava’s manager, Jimmy) and Jen Statsky had wrapped up their characters’ arcs in such a satisfying way. 

Fortunately, there is legitimately more to explore as the series picks back up in Season Three. A year after the Season Two finale, Deborah’s enjoying acclaim like she’s never had before: She’s on the Time 100 list, she did a Super Bowl ad and even the cool twentysomething girlies in the bathroom at a gala want a selfie with her. Meanwhile, Ava’s writing on a current-events comedy show; its English-accented, glasses-wearing host probably isn’t intended to remind you of anyone in particular who might be in the HBO family just so that the show gets a mention on that person’s show after it premieres. 

But things aren’t perfect for either of our protagonists. Deborah is now too famous and beloved to be able to work out material even in smaller clubs because the crowd is so pre-sold on her that they’re laughing at setups. And Ava really misses Deborah, who hasn’t answered any of her texts in months.

The show can’t keep its leads apart for very long, and in the course of the conversation that gets them back on friendly footing, Ava lightly mocks Deborah’s irritation at her too-warm audiences: “You need a challenge. You’re creating obstacles for yourself.” This applies equally to the character and to the series that showcases her: Conveniently-timed food poisoning for one of Deborah’s comedy peers leads her to the possibility of achieving one of her biggest goals, against incredibly long odds. The chance is tantalizing enough for Ava to abandon another major commitment to chase Deborah’s dream with her. The effects of this choice might be devastating for a different kind of person, but Ava barely has space to regret it. Or maybe that space doesn’t (and never could) exist for Ava, because Deborah’s already filling it all, exhausting her emotional capacity.

Like Ava, Deborah rarely considers the feelings of others until after they’ve let her know she injured them. One of her main victims is her daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olson), who makes the mistake of trying to involve Deborah in celebrating a major sobriety milestone at the same time Deborah is preparing to be the guest of honor on a nationally televised roast. While the resolution feels extremely just, Deborah and DJ get through their conflict in a scene that very closely mirrors one they share in the Season Two finale. It’s credible for people to repeat patterns like this in real life, but a show should be better at editing. 

Deborah is also moved to consider repairing a relationship that has been a source of both pain and jokes for decades, but much like Ava, Deborah may never experience a human connection that supersedes her drive to further her career, and this one is no exception. Since we already knew that, the attempt to heal this particular rift is an idea that might have seemed compelling on paper, but which, when filmed, doesn’t feel credible for Deborah even to have tried.

The show continues to offer a rich breadth of characters, both the many new ones I’m not supposed to describe or match up with the already announced guest stars who are playing them, and also the returning faves. Your view of who is deployed most effectively will be a matter of taste, of course; personally, there isn’t a scene with Kayla (Meg Stalter), Jimmy’s assistant, that I wouldn’t have rather spent with Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), CEO of Deborah’s company. And while Marty (Christopher McDonald) continues to be an excellent foil — and then some — for Deborah, we don’t get nearly enough of him either; I don’t care how engaged he is to his French fiancée.

As ever, Ava and Deborah’s points of identity (the ways their characters mirror one another) and opposition give the show its most powerful moments. Though their little fights, generally sparked by one or another of Ava’s annoying political lectures, are starting to wear at this late stage in the series, their big fights — and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say they continue to have them — are scorchingly real and always earned. 

These two people have previously driven each other so crazy that one shit-talked the other badly enough for the victim to file a lawsuit against the perpetrator, and yet, for the show to work, we need to believe they are still getting something crucial out of their time together despite their many clashes. And I do! This dyad is so riveting that it can make even the most critical viewer forgive wild turns of the plot that wouldn’t occur in the entertainment industry as we on planet earth know it to operate. 

And whereas the second season closed so elegantly that it could have ended Hacks forever, the third leaves so many threads untied that if a fourth season doesn’t happen, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is going to find out what trouble actually looks like.


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?