Hacks Season 3, Stan review: savagely funny

Ava and Deborah need serious couples therapy as this comedy double act for the ages deepens the emotional beats.
Streaming Stan Hacks Season 3.

Breakups are complicated. So it was at the close of Hacks season two when (spoilers!) …the towering Jean Smart’s resurgent comedy legend Deborah Vance’s self-taped and sold-on-QVC comedy special relit the networks’ interest in her act. But rather than bring her long-suffering co-writer Ava (the also immaculate Hannah Einbinder) along for the TV rights battle ride, Deborah point-blank fired her, arguing Ava takes up too much space in folks’ lives.

It was the old nest-push manoeuvre, brutally wounding a blindsided Ava, but arguably for a good cause: it’s time for her to spread her wings, and it’s dramatically interesting for us viewers.

Ambien for the win


Jumping forward one year, Ava has it all in this spectacularly finely emotionally tuned show from Broad City brains trust Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky and Paul W. Downs.

Technically, she has it all. Ava is a well-respected member of the writing room on a sitcom (one nobody seems to watch, mind you) and has moved back in with her ex, Ruby (Lorenza Izzo), now a fast-rising Hollywood star. But Ava appears to be going through the motions. The symbolism is clear when she rear-ends a bus while gazing longingly at Deborah on a billboard. With the older woman’s sphere of influence still writ large over every aspect of her life, a car crash is inevitable.

Ruthlessly ambitious Deborah may be, and she’s on top again, but she is hopeless at acknowledging how much she needs those who hold her up.

While an amusing bait and switch that opens the season sets up that Deborah is too big for Vegas now, baby, not to mention Los Angeles’ iconic and not inconsequentially-sized Bourbon Room ‘this is so intimate’, it’s in the dark of 3am at home (mostly) alone that the truth will out.

The aftermath of Deborah mucking around with the placing of a battalion of tchotchkes at silly o’clock is brutally assessed by ever-dry housekeeper Josefina (Rose Abdoo) in the cold light of day. She stares in despair at Deborah’s handiwork alongside business boss Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins, sidelined in this run).

‘It’s chaos,’ Josefina says. ‘She’s obviously not sleeping again. I might have to slip Ambien in her coq au vin.’

It takes two

Josefina knows better than Deborah how much the comedian needs Ava. Truth is, they’re caught up in a (quite often toxic) co-dependent relationship no matter how much they might resist it, with the mighty Hacks writing room mining their love-hate spate for a savagely funny joke-landing hit rate as they inevitably fall back in with one another.

Despite craving it, Deborah can’t handle too much adulation, needing Ava’s pushback to connect with new audiences. For all her one-two jabs, the previously cancelled Ava is stuck in hero worship mode with a kindred spirit – she’ll throw anyone else overboard to please Deborah.

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Smart and Einbinder are an all-time great comedy double act. It’s a high-wire act asking us to care about complicated characters who make dumb decisions that deliberately hurt one another. It’s a credit to these comedy queens, and the team behind them, that we consistently do care, while snort-cackling at their loaded barbs on repeat.

Hacks is the type of show that can make us root for Deborah even though she laments the wardrobe-bound status of a (hilariously hideous ‘Big Bird’) tangerine dress with puffy sleeves, acidly aside-ing, ‘I never got to wear it because Polanski fled.’

As magnificent as Smart and Einbinder are, the best comedy shows also shine in their ensemble. Marcus may take a backseat, as does the sparkling Mark Indelicato as Deborah’s assistant Damien – leaving the actors of colour mainly on the bench is seriously uncool – and it’s Deborah’s agent Jimmy (Downs) and his chaotically hapless wing woman Kayla (Megan Stalter) who pretty much steal the show.

Bringing a touch of queerer Entourage energy to proceedings, Jimmy’s eye-rolling reluctance to put up with Kayla’s dippiest shit is a squeal, like when she asks if he has a tampon and he, goggle-eyed, asks, ‘Why would I?’

While Kayla’s mayhem and his flabbergasted responses are prime comic foil, we’re laughing with, not at them, as the show nudges them towards a less fractious got-your-back vibe that mirrors Ava and Deborah’s tango. Jimmy and Kayla’s pickleball play-off is peak-of-the-season stuff,  as is a twist on the airport rom-com rules, which will have you welling up.

As will Kaitlin Olson also as Deborah’s done-with-her-mum daughter, DJ. Much like Ava, she’s stuck on whiplash repeat as her mum opens up, then snaps shut again, conveying a whirlwind of feelings after finally convincing Deborah to attend one of her AA meetings (‘There are women 20 years younger than you that look 30 years older’) that sadly descends into a look-at-me stand-up routine. This prompts DJ to join a spicy Roast Deborah panel for primetime payback.

I am what I am

The heat is on as season three progresses, and Deborah increasingly sweats the consequences of her winner-takes-all approach. But the beauty of Hacks is that the writers and directors never lose sight of the fact she is exactly what this industry has made her.

Early on, there’s a telling moment when a fellow agent sneers at Jimmy that, ‘a bad flu season could knock out your whole roster.’

It underlines Deborah’s greatest fear: that they’ll never accept a woman her age when stoking refired ambitions to rule the late-night chat show roost. Count her out, though, and more fool you. As Deborah insists, ‘We’ll shatter the glass hip.’

Hacks Season 3 is streaming on Stan from 3 May.


5 out of 5 stars

Hacks Season 3


Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Lorenza Izzo, Rose Abdoo, Carl Clemons-Hopkins


Format: TV Series

Country: US

Release: 03 May 2024

Available on:

Stan, 9 Episodes