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The relationship between a standup legend and an upstart comedy writer grows complicated in the third season of Hacks

A year apart seems to have done wonders for standup veteran Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and her Gen Z writer Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder). Deborah is riding high on the wave of her honest and vulnerable comedy special and Ava is working on a critically acclaimed current affairs show, a la Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. “They’re both doing better than ever,” says one of Hacks’ three creators and showrunners, Jen Statsky. “We wanted them to go their separate ways to realize what they were missing in each other. Deborah is now doing so well she doesn’t have to work as hard for it. She needs Ava to push her. Ava needs Deborah because there is a spark that she doesn’t get from anyone else.”

Hacks on Crave. Pictured: Ava (Hannah Einbinder) and Deborah (Jean Smart) hit the links in season three of Hacks.

It does not take long for the duo to reunite in the third season of the series, and it’s quickly back to regularly scheduled programming. “I love the way they got back together; this kind of fake politeness for five minutes and then they start to insult each other,” says Smart. But is falling back into old patterns a good thing? “From the jump there has been a push and pull. Is Deborah the perfect example for Ava? In some ways no, but there are a lot of lessons about hard work and cutting your teeth that Deborah has imparted upon Ava,” says Einbinder. “I think she’s learning from this relationship. Sometimes they make each other better, but they also make each other worse.”

Hacks on Crave. Pictured: Deborah’s team left to right: Kayla (Megan Stalter), Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins), Damien (Mark Indelicato) and Jimmy (Paul W. Downs).

In the show’s third outing, an opportunity for Deborah to host a late-night talk show arises, becoming a unifying goal for both women. “The white whale of her talk show, we always knew we wanted to bring that back,” says Paul W. Downs, co-creator, showrunner and the actor who plays Deborah’s agent, Jimmy. “We knew that we wanted Deborah and Ava to be on top when we come back to the season, but they’re both better when they’re like a dog with a bone. Having that be their mission for the season was going to be something that would really drive them.” The elusiveness of late night is something that Deborah has carried with her for a long time. “That bitterness and disappointment is something that’s sort of fed her,” says Smart. “She’s felt that she’d made peace with it, and all of a sudden, she gets that little taste of it and almost didn’t realize how much she still wanted it.”

Hacks on Crave. Pictured: The ever-evolving Deborah-Ava dynamic continues to be at the heart of Hacks.

This year, the core cast is joined by new characters, including Deborah’s sister, played by Succession’s J. Smith-Cameron. “She looks like she could be my little sister,” says Smart. “I’ve always thought she was an incredible actress. We had a good time working together.” Christopher Lloyd makes an appearance as the quirky grandson of a legacy actor that Deborah’s agents, Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) and Kayla (Megan Stalter), want to engage in a project. “We wrote the character with him in mind,” says Downs. “We were so lucky to have him, because he was bringing Christopher Lloyd. He was so funny, so lively.” Oscar winner Helen Hunt comes in guns blazing, as ruthless pickle ball-loving network exec Winnie Wendell. “She out-Deborahs Deborah. She really does,” says Smart. “I think even Deborah is scared of her.”

Hacks on Crave. Pictured: Jean Smart as Deborah Vance.

Wherever Hacks is headed, the show never strays far from its core theme about obstacles faced by women in comedy — particularly the longstanding myth that women are not as funny as men. “I think it’s in the DNA of the show,” says Statsky. “When we made the show, the conversation between Paul, Lucia [Aniello, the third creator in the trifecta] and myself was very much about that — especially for me and Lucia as women in comedy. Even though we are not free of it, we stand on the shoulders of the women who did have to deal with that for so, so long. This show in and of itself is both a love letter to those women – thank you for being in the trenches and working to fight even harder than we had to — and also proof in the pudding that these women are incredibly funny. So shut up.”

Hacks on Crave. Pictured: As Deborah Vance pounces on a rare opportunity, her team has plenty to celebrate in the new season.

Since Hacks first premiered in 2021, it is not just Deborah and Ava that have gone through the wringer. A global pandemic and industry strikes have brought the team closer than they could have imagined. “When you go through personal things with people that you work closely with, it does really bond you,” says Smart. “The fact that we work with people who are every bit as kind and as nice as they are talented, it’s such a gift. You think, why can’t it always be that way?” For Einbinder, this duo’s onscreen relationship continues to mirror the one she and Smart have in real life. “We make a show about the love shared between people who laugh together and it’s kind of meta, because that’s what we do every day,” she says. “There is no greater bond than the one between funny people who collaborate. It is our love language.”

Hacks, streaming Thursdays on Crave

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