‘Hacks’ Season 3 Is Its Horniest Yet. Does It Need This Much Sex?

Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Max
Photo Illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Max

Having a one-night stand seems to have become veteran comic Deborah Vance’s (Jean Smart) go-to method in confronting the two most painful moments from her past: losing a late-night talk show and losing her husband to her younger sister in one fell swoop.

In both of the last two seasons of Hacks, Deborah has had fleeting encounters that prove she has the capacity for self-reflection after a night in the sack with a hot guy—which is true even when Deborah breaks her own “no married men” rule.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead for the latest episodes of Hacks.)

Hacks has never shied away from depicting the sex lives of Deborah and her writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder), even if their bedroom antics don’t always go according to plan. In fact, they rarely go to plan. In this latest episode, for example, Ava’s hookup with a Republican oil heiress (played by Christina Hendricks) was interrupted—just the latest instance of that happening. (See also the threesome on the lesbian cruise last season.) But when it comes to regret, Deborah undoubtedly harbors more of it after sleeping with television network CEO Bob Lipka (Tony Goldwyn). Not because it might be a conflict of interest, but because of the wedding band on his finger.

Time and time again, work comes before having a personal life for these women. So, while there have been attempts at meaningful romances, like Ava and actress Ruby's (Lorenza Izzo) previous coupling, efforts are always usurped by the creative partnership at the heart of the series.

But a weekend golf tournament for TV station affiliates in this week’s episodes was the backdrop for more sexual encounters for Ava and Deborah—and pondering what it means for their respective states of heartbreak and solitude. The scenes are certainly entertaining. But does a comedy series already nailing its exploration of the entertainment industry really need to turn up the horny dial too?

I can already picture Deborah rolling her eyes at the mere whiff of sex-scene discourse (whereas Ava would giddily tangle herself up in the conversation). It might be surprising to Hacks fans just how much sex there has been on this show. While most of the encounters occur with someone viewers never see again (come back, Devon Sawa!), getting to see Deborah and Ava engage with this kind of pleasure has proven both revealing and rewarding for the audience invested in these characters’ lives.

Ava’s fantasy encounter gone awry

At the golf outing, Ava’s only commitment is to ensure Deborah knows her Padres fans from the flat Earthers, in order to aid Deborah's effortless schmoozing. Unfortunately, Ava has not done any additional research, so she is flummoxed when she finds out later in the episode that the gorgeous golf queen who has been making fuck-me eyes in her direction—and who she later hooked up with—is a Republican who specifically wanted to pick up a golf caddy to dominate (and pee on).

Christina Hendricks and Hannah Einbinder in Episode 6 of Hacks Season 3.

Christina Hendricks and Hannah Einbinder in Episode 6 of Hacks Season 3.


Given that Ava only took on the caddy gig to prove to Deborah that she can handle a job in the service industry, there is a bitter irony that she gets picked up at the hotel bar only because she is a caddy. On the surface, what reads like a dream fantasy role-play is quite actually just a woman acting out her overt contempt for a service worker like Ava. Hendricks nails this disgust with lines like, “You fucking stink,” which is clearly not part of a cutesy game. Despite trying to come across as worldly, Ava’s naivete is like a flashing beacon when she realizes it is a gay Republican woman who has propositioned her. It is a deal-breaker for said Republican when Ava reveals she is a comedy writer and producer (not a caddy!).

‘Hacks’ Season 3 Is Going Nuclear on Worst Parts of the Comedy World

From the promo trailer and comments made by Einbinder on the press tour (“God is real” was her reaction to Hendricks’ guest role), you could assume that Ava’s no-strings affair will be nothing short of a fun time. However, where is the comedy in that? Ava spends the whole episode verbally tangled up in what she considers potentially problematic issues, whether discussing Cameron Diaz’s wine company or her take on Deborah’s Christmas elf auditions. The Gen Z writer doesn’t need a lesson on how to be a good person, but the result of her brief foray into the service industry fits this character’s journey rather than something more blissful.

Once again, Hacks turned a steamy fantasy encounter on its head. Like its examination of the entertainment industry, it sharply deconstructs power dynamics during these hornier moments for both Ava and Deborah.

Sex underscores fantasy and reality

Case in point: Deborah’s tryst in the episode.

Hacks creators Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello, and Paul W. Downs have explored Deborah’s sense of identity throughout each season, using her husband Frank’s affair with her sister Kathy (J. Smith-Cameron) in the mid-’70s as the fulcrum point. “The worst feeling in the world was losing a late-night show,” she admitted on stage after her one-night stand last season. “I got over my husband, but I never got over that.” She chose to reveal these buried secrets and shine the spotlight on herself rather than acting like the victim. Opening this can of worms led to this current career-high, so it’s no wonder the veteran star is feeling herself in myriad ways.

It is a full circle moment, considering Deborah is going for the same job she briefly held and then lost due to the scandal swirling around her broken marriage in 1976. It has dredged up a litany of emotions, reminding her of everything she lost. The late-night hosting gig represents a personal and professional failure; this is her last shot at landing this dream job. She finds out during the golf tournament, however, that someone else already was promised the job. Letting herself get to this place where she will say what she wants out loud is relatively new territory, making her reaction to losing the gig before she’s even had a chance all the more understandable.

Deborah has never been one for caring about being perceived as a “good person;” or at least, in most areas of her life, she is the epitome of DGAF. Her relationship with Ava has certainly changed her perspective on some things like sexuality, as demonstrated by Deborah’s reaction to a comment about bisexuals made by older male comics. But at the tournament, she reverts to a dated playbook of appealing to a man by pretending she sucks at golf. The goal is to flirt with Bob, who gamely references Deborah’s “buoyant form.”

‘Hacks’ Season 3 Is So Good, It’s Almost a Miracle

Casting Goldwyn is smart because he has oodles of dashing charm without coming across as a pig—his irresistible performance as Fitz on Scandal certainly lingers long in the memory. It might seem utterly beneath Deborah to lose her competitive spirit—especially as the audience knows she is actually good at golf—but this fits Deborah’s old-school sensibilities.

But she drops the inexperienced act when she discovers that forty-something Jack Danby (Luke Cook) has already been promised the late-night desk. Later, she schools Bob in his golf stance, sidling up behind him, using a move usually reserved in rom-coms for men. What makes this scene even hotter is Deborah isn’t even trying to get into bed with Bob. It happens nonetheless. “The meaner I was to him, the more into me he was,” she tells Ava the following morning. While she didn’t plan on sleeping with Bob, Deborah is not a sports bra kind of woman. Suffice it to say, the image of Deborah in eyelash lace lingerie as she is about to straddle Bob is one of the hottest of the year so far.

It wasn’t a casting couch moment, in which Deborah tried one last shot at getting the late-night job through sex. Instead, Deborah’s hangover-infused guilt stems from a philosophy she has stuck to since the 1970s: “I swore when this happened to me, I’d never be the other woman.” It surprises Ava, who thinks Deborah is being too harsh on herself. She points out that it is not the same as marrying your sister’s husband. Hey, at least she didn’t “end up in bed with an oil heiress who wants to pee on you.”

Ava reacting with glee after Deborah slept with someone is a repeated theme. (“Okay, pop off slut” is how she responded last season before apologizing for crossing a line.) Like the best standup comedians, Hacks excels at planting early seeds and callbacks, whether a line of dialogue or a storyline threading its way through the series. Deborah’s ex is dead, but Kathy Vance is a specter haunting every corner of this story. Sleeping with a married man has a transformative effect on Deborah, revealed in the final scene. For the first time in over 40 years, Deborah’s sister has received a festive holiday party invitation, turning her from the ghost of Christmas past into the ghost of Christmas present.

When Hacks gets horny, Deborah not only gets some, but also gets some perspective.

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