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8 Reasons Why ‘Hacks’ Should Be Your Next Comedy Obsession

It begins with the fabulous Jean Smart, but it doesn’t end there


spinner image Jean Smart smiling in a scene from the Max series Hacks
Jean Smart stars as Deborah Vance in "Hacks."
HBO Max

Hacks, one of TV’s wittiest and most heartfelt comedies, returns to streaming platform Max for its eagerly anticipated third season May 2. If you haven’t started watching, what are you waiting for? The Las Vegas–set series stars TV legend Jean Smart, 72, as stand-up comedian Deborah Vance, one of the biggest (and hardest-working) performers on the Strip and off. When she’s not busy with her residency at the Palmetto Casino, she’s shilling products on a home shopping channel or doing fan events that might make you think of the late Joan Rivers.

​When her position at the Palmetto is threatened, Vance realizes she needs to give her career a major shot in the arm to appeal to a new generation of fans. Enter Ava (Hannah Einbinder), a 20-something L.A. comedy writer with whom Vance shares an agent. Ava is on the verge of being canceled for an insensitive tweet and could be just what Vance needs. Their mismatched partnership kicks off the odd-couple relationship that fuels the series. If Smart’s presence alone isn’t motivation enough to binge it, here are a few more reasons to fall in love with the comedy, which has won six Emmys.

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spinner image Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Meshach Taylor, Jean Smart and Dixie Carter pose for a portrait together for Designing Women
(Left to right) The cast of "Designing Women": Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Meshach Taylor, Jean Smart and Dixie Carter.
Lifetime TV/Everett Collection

1. Hacks proves that Jean Smart can do anything

The Designing Women star has been an awards magnet for decades, with two guest actress Emmys for Frasier and a supporting actress win for the sitcom Samantha Who?, plus nods in the drama and limited series categories. In recent years, she’s taken on darker roles in must-see projects such as Fargo, Watchmen and Mare of Easttown, but Hacks offered a chance for her to once again flex her comedic muscles. And she’s just as sharp as she’s always been. When she won back-to-back lead actress Emmys for Hacks, she earned a unique honor: She’s only the second actress after Betty White to win lead, supporting and guest actress Emmys in the comedy category. And at the age of 70, she was one of the oldest to win in the lead category. She technically ranks second after Ruth Gordon, who was 82 when she won for her one-episode stint on Taxi, before the guest category had been created.

spinner image Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder standing next each other in Hacks
Jean Smart, left, and Hannah Einbinder.
HBO Max

2. The show is a celebration of intergenerational friendship

One of the beauties of Hacks is the amazing chemistry between Smart and Einbinder — despite their nearly 45-year age gap. They banter, they fight, they hone their comedy-writing skills, and at different times throughout the series, they might think of themselves as frenemies, enemies, confidantes or collaborators. “They complement one another so beautifully,” Einbinder said on Today. “They exhibit a very classic dynamic that we haven’t really seen between two women before, and frankly, I think they are both compelling, funny, interesting people.” In some ways, that mentor/mentee relationship continues off-screen. Einbinder said the lessons she’s learned from Smart go “far beyond acting,” and “it centers more around being a good person and a lovely light in the lives of other people. That’s really what Jean is to me and, I know, to all of us on set.”

Don’t miss this: Jean Smart Talks Family, Grief and Aging: ‘Every Day Is Precious Now,’ on AARP Members Only Access

spinner image Laraine Newman and Hannah Einbinder at the Television Academy's 24th Hall of Fame Ceremony
(Left to right) Laraine Newman and Hannah Einbinder
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

3. Einbinder comes from comedy royalty — even if you might not know it from her name

Hannah Einbinder is a buzzy stand-up comedian you might have seen on the late-night circuit before Hacks premiered. In 2020, at 23, she became the youngest comedian to perform a set on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. If you think there’s something vaguely familiar about her, you’re not imagining things: She’s the daughter of original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman, 72.

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spinner image Christopher McDonald holding a microphone standing next to slot machine featuring Jean Smart's character Deborah Vance in Hacks
Christopher McDonald as Marty Ghilain in "Hacks."
HBO Max

4. The leads are surrounded by a hilarious roster of supporting performers

Rounding out the lead cast are a trio of performers who may be new to you: Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah’s COO Marcus; series cocreator Paul W. Downs as Deborah and Ava’s agent, Jimmy; and Megan Stalter as Jimmy’s wacky assistant, Kayla. Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia plays Deborah’s daughter, DJ, and Christopher McDonald, 69 — whom you might know from roles in Happy Gilmore, Thelma & Louise and dozens of other films and shows — goes toe to toe with Smart as Marty Ghilain, CEO of the Palmetto Casino.

spinner image Laurie Metcalf getting off a tour bus in the Max series Hacks
Laurie Metcalf in "Hacks."
HBO Max

5. The stacked guest cast is expanding this season

For the show’s first two seasons, five actors have been nominated for guest performer Emmys, including McDonald, Olson, Harriet Sansom Harris, 69 (as Susan, one of Deborah’s oldest friends), Laurie Metcalf, 68 (as Weed, the tour manager), and Jane Adams, 59 (twice, as Ava’s mother). And it wouldn’t be a show set in Sin City without an appearance by Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, 82. Season 3 promises to be even more star-studded, with planned appearances by Helen Hunt, 60, Christina Hendricks, Christopher Lloyd, 85, and Succession scene-stealer J. Smith-Cameron, 66.

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spinner image Joan Rivers smiles for a portrait next to Phyllis Diller in a devil costume
(Left to right) Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller
Harry Langdon/Getty Images; ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

6. The series’ creators drew on old-school entertainers

Showrunner Jen Statsky told Script magazine that she and the other writers were inspired by “women of a certain generation, women like Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Elaine May, Debbie Reynolds,” and the ways the entertainment world was “not a welcoming place for them.” Fans were quick to point out similarities to Rivers — but she was only one piece of the puzzle when the writers were creating Deborah. Downs told The Wrap, “She’s an amalgamation of a lot of people. She started as a stage act with her then-partner, kind of like a [Mike] Nichols and May. So there’s Elaine May in there. She had a famous sitcom and then very public divorce, not unlike Lucille Ball. We also threw in Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers and Elayne Boosler and Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone. So many female stand-ups that didn’t get the recognition that some of their white male counterparts did. And obviously Jean also brought a lot of herself to the role. So it really became something very distinct.”

spinner image Angela E. Gibbs and Luenell standing next to each other in a scene from Hacks
(Left to right) Angela E. Gibbs and Luenell in "Hacks."
HBO Max

7. It’s also just really funny

There’s quite a bit of pathos in the series, but at its heart, it’s a celebration of female comedians, and every episode comes with a lot of laughs. Stand-up comedians who have appeared on the show include Margaret Cho, 55, Luenell, 65, and Susie Essman, 68, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame.

spinner image Wanda Sykes performs at the 22nd Annual Comics Come Home performance to benefit the Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care
Wanda Sykes
Paul Marotta/Getty Images

8. There’s a companion podcast for when you run out of episodes

The only downside to falling hard for a streaming comedy is that they often go by too quickly. The first two seasons comprise only 18 episodes, meaning you can easily binge the series in a weekend. As you’re waiting for new episodes to air, listen to The Official Hacks Podcast, which is hosted by Downs, Statsky and cocreator Lucia Aniello and includes chats with comedians (and Hacks superfans) Wanda Sykes, 60, and Rosie O’Donnell, 62.

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