‘Hacks’ Season 3 Review: Hilarious, Dramatic, and Heartfelt

Calling a TV show “underrated” can feel like simplistic praise. With the cavalcade of streaming content, viewers will always have what they call “underrated” favorites. These favorites can still lead to numerous Emmy nominations and critical praise. MAX’s television show Hacks has had thirty-two Emmy nominations and six wins. Seasons one and two crafted a beautiful balance of comedy and drama with their story. That primarily stemmed from the relationship between Ava (Hannah Einbinder) and Deborah Vance (Jean Smart). As the show enters season three, Hacks solidifies itself as a fantastic comedy series.

After the events of season two, Ava and Deborah are riding separate highs. Deborah has gained a newfound popularity, while Ava is writing for a new hit television series. While starting on separate paths, It’s still evident that they will come together. In their individual adventures, Hacks remains significantly less interesting. Thankfully, creators Lucia AnielloPaul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky realize that very thing. Once these characters are back together, Hacks delivers its best, funniest, and most emotionally complex season to date. That is thanks to the combination of both the writing and performances.

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks Season 3
Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in Hacks Season 3. Image courtesy of MAX.

Not enough can be said about the series’ lead performances. Both Einbinder and Smart understand their characters’ quirks and their emotional centers. Deborah, in particular, has proven herself to be someone who wants to keep her relevance in this business. In season three, she finds what she’s always wanted but is represented by a new issue. How can she maintain the dream her dream of being famous? Season 3 puts her character into that gargantuan task with an equal amount of trials and tribulations. Smart delivers throughout, adding a compelling sense of emotional depth along the way. This is not within what she says but in the side-eye and deadpan looks she delivers to others.

Deborah has a tough exterior, which hides an emotionally fragile interior. To effectively convey this, the show needed someone like Hannah Einbinder to counterbalance her. Her character, Ava, has shown massive growth within this third season, being more than a punchline. In season three, she has been given a more pronounced sense of agency without losing her funny and awkward sense of humor. While maintaining those awkward sensibilities, Einbinder also showcases her growing maturity by standing up to Deborah. Her time in the entertainment industry (especially with Deborah) it made her understand what it takes to survive i and succeed. Einbinder nails Ava’s newfound street smarts but keeps her impressive dry-wit.

The brilliance of Einbinder and Smart’s performances should not overshadow the supporting cast. Season 3 of Hacks wisely gives attention to the characters orbiting Deborah and Ava. This includes her manager, Jimmy (co-creator Paul W. Downs), his partner (and one-time assistant) Kayla (Megan Stalter), and Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), the head of Deborah’s management company. Each character is given their due, with no one being short-changed regarding screen time. These supporting actors embark on engaging and thoroughly entertaining journeys, adding depth and richness to the show.

One of the first minor issues with Hacks involves the numerous recurring roles. Besides our main cast, certain supporting players are given less to do. This includes certain actors from previous seasons and scene-stealing newcomers. I want to give a special shoutout to the recurring performance of Kaitlin Olsen as Deborah’s daughter DJ. Olsen has one of the most emotional episodes this season, which an admittedly surprised me. Fans of Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia will appreciate the more dramatic turn, while some may be disappointed by her more dramatic turn. Olsen blends those expected comedic sensibilities with a sense of heart, which might surprise some. It’s a welcome amount of character depth I wish was applied to others in the season.

That criticism can also be perceived as a compliment to the series. No matter the role, all of these characters have a genuine likability. No matter how eccentric they appear, each one remains sympathetic. That still allows them to stay consistently funny no matter the drama that lies ahead. As the third season of Hacks progresses, that drama takes center stage, sometimes teetering into melodrama. That melodrama could leave some slightly frustrated, but it can remain engaging for many—stemming from the exciting and hilarious performances. 

Jean Smart in Hacks Season 3
Jean Smart in Hacks Season 3. Image courtesy of MAX.

Such melodrama is carried with a real sense of weight and honesty. From a writing standpoint, certain situations the characters find themselves in feel like a soap opera. Lukewarm fans could see this as a dull way to heighten the tension. Those fans already along for the ride will not be disappointed. That is thanks to a cast and crew that understand one crucial factor. Viewers must have compelling characters to follow, no matter the dramatic situations. Hacks season three has plenty of compelling characters for audiences to connect with. 

The television streaming market has been oversaturated with content. The number of streaming services and shows may feel like an endless pit. There are so many options, which makes it hard to find great television. Season three of Hacks is a show that has it all, varying from laugh-out-loud comedy to touching and tense drama. The characters are compelling, hilarious, and truthful about their place in this industry. Those intentions also help the series effectively satirize entertainment media’s complicated world. Over nine episodes, Hacks season three achieves every emotion it wants viewers to have. That is thanks to excellent writing and performances that are engaging, thoroughly entertaining, and leave viewers wanting more ASAP. 

Hacks Season 3 is now streaming on MAX.

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