Barry is an Emmy-winning, critically acclaimed comedy currently in its 3rd season on HBO. That description is not likely to elicit much of a reaction and I too was dismissive of Barry at first, but one day, after seeing it would be returning after a 3 year hiatus, I gave the first episode a shot and then binged through the rest of it entirely in just a few days. You will be hard pressed to find a show with as much finesse courtesy as this one of masterminds Bill Hader and Alec Berg. It’s funny, it’s tense, it’s crushing and in some ways, life-affirming in its depiction of a bunch of flawed people trying to become better people, but also quite disturbing in the depths to which they sometimes fail. This contradictory description is only indicative of how bewildering it is that this show works as well as it does. It’s a mechanical bull tonally, moving the audience in whiplash-inducing swings back and forth in every direction, but it builds a foundation where those shifts from utter hilarity to the truly bleak are expected.
Barry stars comedian actor Bill Hader, who’s been heavily involved with the writing and directing of the series, as Barry, a former marine who came out of the service to the open arms of a family friend named Fuches, who promptly pushed him into the contract killer business for Barry’s tactical knowhow and his calm and cold demeanor. Fuches becomes Barry’s handler and splits his fee with Barry until Barry takes a job in Los Angeles to kill a personal trainer who’s having an affair with a Chechen mob boss’s wife. While following his next target, he steps into an acting class taught by the larger than life Gene Cousineau, shunned by the movie and television industry for his on-set outbursts and fits of arrogance, but hailed by his loyal students, who seem constantly in awe of his love for acting. He falls almost instantly for Sally whose sky-high aspirations for herself and her career place her in Cousineau’s classes. From there, Barry struggles with the push and pull of the family he finds in Cousineau’s classes and Fuches’s desire to keep him killing and collecting. His attempts to keep these parts of himself separated are only complicated by a police investigation that threatens to out him as a hitman.
Now, I know that plot breakdown doesn’t read like a comedy, but Barry is sprinkled with countless laughs throughout each episode. Noho Hank, a carefree Chechen mobster who doesn’t exactly have the right mindset for his place in the Chechen mob, is a delight. I hadn’t seen Anthony Carrigan in anything before but the positivity he brings to Hank and how unafraid he is to be goofy in this world of cutthroat killers and mob folks has made Hank one of my favorite characters on television. Fuches is a buffoon, a detestable blight upon Barry’s existence, but is rendered so incompetent without Barry in his life, he goes back to almost being worthy of sympathy. Stephen Root, who’s like the greatest actor to never have his name above the title, is just great as Fuches. The performances in this show never disappoint. Everybody brings something to the table. Henry Winkler as Gene Cousineau! And Sarah Goldberg as Sally! Her complete commitment to the career she wants to have is both endearing and a little frightening. Goldberg walks the line between those two qualities really well. And Bill Hader as the titular Barry! I don’t think anybody who watched him in SNL or Superbad or Trainwreck had any idea that he had this kind of role, performed this outstandingly, in him. He is the star of the show, but a performance that is for the most part, the least accentuated out of the entire cast. I’m continually in awe about the ability he has to look in absolute terror whenever the walls start to close on him, you know things are about to go down whenever this guy’s eyes balloon in shock.
Every time I finish an episode of Barry, I have two thoughts. One, “Shoot.” The wait between episodes is a pain especially when the stakes can feel so high for Barry and the people he cares about. It’s a testament to how good the show is, though, that Barry almost never goes for the obvious cliffhanger and still, leaves me wanting more. Barry leaves you with moments of mystery or uncertainty not of what will immediately happen to the characters, but how this will affect the way they see themselves and the other characters going forward. My other thought, “That was 30 minutes?” Another plus, this show is short, the episodes are never more than a little over 30 minutes, making them highly bingeable if you choose to go that route. Hader has talked in many interviews about cutting all hints of unnecessary plotlines or moments from the show. This show is constantly being refined to its purest and best form and it shows. So yeah, go watch Barry!