Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder Say Their ‘Special and Unique’ Relationship Escalates in ‘Hacks’ Season 3

Note: This story contains spoilers from “Hacks” Season 3, Episodes 1 and 2.

Speaking to Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder is a bit like stepping into an episode of “Hacks.”

During the second episode of the Max comedy’s latest season, Deborah Vance (Smart) is supposed to go on a late night show to promote her hit standup special. But thanks to some food poisoning and fast talking from her manager, she ends up guest hosting the show instead. Deborah’s time as host concludes with the actor she’s supposed to be interviewing bench pressing her instead of telling another monotonous late night story, a stunt Smart described as “embarrassing.”

“I felt bad for him having to do that. I always feel like I’m too heavy for someone to pick me up. I thought, ‘Oh my god, this poor guy,'” Smart told TheWrap.

“You understand that bench pressing you would be an item on a silent auction,” Einbinder shot back. “We feel bad for him? We’d give that away for charity. He’s fine.”

TheWrap’s interview with the stars of the Emmy-winning comedy series were full of all sorts of real-like “Hacks” moments. Like when Smart noted that she worked with Luke Macfarlane — the “lovely” actor who lifted her — on a Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s the sort of noncommittal aside that wouldn’t feel out of place coming from the mouth of Deborah Vance just as Einbinder’s labelling of the movie as “iconic” feels taken straight from Ava.

Hannah Einbinder in “Hacks” Season 3. (Max)

It’s fitting that Smart and Einbinder would be so in sync with their characters and each other because, more than any other season, the strength of their partnership serves as the backbone for Season 3. This latest batch of episodes takes place after Deborah has fired Ava. After a year of icy silence, the relationship that emotionally wrecked Ava is unexpectedly rekindled when they reunite at the Just For Laughs festival. But when Deborah learns that her dream job hosting “Late Night” may be a possibility, their partnership is pushed to its absolute limits.

Though Deborah and Ava’s relationship is platonic for now (“You haven’t seen Season 4,” Smart joked), there is an element of it that feels romantic. That element is played up in “Late Night,” an episode that shows Ava grinning on her bed and Deborah falling asleep with her phone in her hands as the two exchange joke-filled text messages. That’s not by accident.

“Part of the closeness and intimacy is a function of them now having spent so much time together and knowing each other. That’s just a natural progression of a relationship,” series co-creator and executive producer Jen Statsky told TheWrap. “But really, we have always wanted to make this show a love letter to comedy, the art of making comedy and the very intimate relationship that happens when you create with someone.”

Statsky noted that shows and movies have more hallmarks for romantic relationships than for fulfilling creative partnerships. “This is a type of relationship that isn’t depicted as much,” Statsky said. “It’s what keeps them pulled towards each other, because there is a love and a connection there that they don’t actually find in anyone else, even in romantic relationships.”

Deborah (Jean Smart), Kayla (Megan Stalter) and Jimmy (Paul W. Downs) in “Hacks” Season 3 (Photo Credit: Max)

“There’s this thing when you have a sense of humor that’s shared and when you can make somebody laugh, or they can make you laugh, which is like a visceral, physical thing,” co-creator, executive producer and series star Paul W. Downs said. “There is something romantic about it. I think it’s because you feel — this is so eye roll to say — you feel seen by that person.”

Though Downs conceded that lots of people, including astrophysicists, likely experience a similar feeling when they’re creating with someone else, Deborah and Ava’s comedic collaboration is “very autobiographical for us. It’s what we love to do,” he said.

For Smart, portraying this relationship has been a “satisfying” experience.

“We rarely see these kind of relationships portrayed. I think that’s one of the reasons people are responding to the show, even if they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is,” Smart said. “They sense that it’s something special and unique, but also very real and something that hopefully they can identify with on some level.”

This special relationship is also one that the stars and creators of “Hacks” have experienced on set. “Deborah and Ava have some elements that feel a little maybe more toxic than all of us,” Einbinder said. “But with Paul, Jen and Lucia [Aniello], the two of us and really the whole cast and the crew, when you can laugh with people, you have that very special bond, and you really chase that. I always say it’s like being in a foreign land, and you’re the only people who speak the same language. It really is that severe of a difference in a person’s ability to connect.”

But this passion has a dark side, one that Season 3 explores to full effect through Ava. “Deborah’s going to look out for Deborah,” Einbinder teased.

The first two episodes of “Hacks” Season 3 are now streaming on Max. New episodes are released Thursdays through May 30.

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