‘Barry’: An HBO Show That Is to Die for
A bathroom door stands open and out steps a man in all black. He looks solemn, sad, and even bored as he walks through the door and across the room. The camera follows him to reveal a man lying in a bed, shot in the head.
The mystery man unscrews a silencer from his pistol and tucks it away into his jacket pocket. He walks away from the bed only to look back one more time, nonchalantly checking his watch, seeming indifferent to the man he has just killed.
This is Barry Berkman.
Now in its final season, HBO’s “Barry” is a critically acclaimed television show written, directed, and produced by Bill Hader. During its final season “Barry” averages 2.6 million viewers every Sunday. It has had similar viewership for the previous three seasons as well. I binged the first three seasons rather quickly and it is now one of my favorite shows because of its mixing of genres and interesting characters.
Starring Hader, the “Saturday Night Live” star, and acting legend Henry Winkler, “Barry” is lauded as one of the best television shows airing right now and it would be criminal to not watch it before the series finale on May 28.
This is the kind of show that gets better with each season. It draws you in with its loveable characters only to unravel them into depths many other shows don’t execute well. If you like shows that juggle well-written comedy with amazing drama this is the one for you.
“Barry” follows a down-on-his luck hitman who is the namesake of the show. Upon getting a job to assassinate a personal trainer who has wronged a Chechen crime boss in Hollywood, he finds a love of acting and wants to create a new life for himself. Barry tries to separate himself from his days as a hitman but, no matter how hard he tries, his past always seems to catch up with him and his grand plans of fame quickly go awry.
In a review of the first season by James Poniewozik of The New York Times, he writes, “The season finale does raise the question of how long the series can string out its double-life premise. But mostly, ‘Barry’ pulls off the feat, developing into something more profound than its high-concept premise suggests. You don’t expect this comedy to find its target in the way it does. And as Barry could tell you, that element of surprise is the mark of a professional.”
Throughout the first three seasons a trail of death, bad decisions, and overreactions lead to the characters evolving in meaningful ways that fluidly and substantially change how the viewer sees them. Barry evolves from a loveable guy you can’t help but root for to something completely the opposite. One of Barry’s bosses, Noho Hank, goes from a goofy gang boss to a very serious character in later seasons. All of these characters go through changes that deepen the complexities of who they are.
The show also is not afraid to dive into the psyche of every character and filter them into their most pure animalistic components while still maintaining finesse.
“Barry” is defined as a comedy drama and it balances both parts well. None of the funny moments feel overly serious and the serious moments are never lessened because of the comedy. They maintain a steady balance that creates a fluctuating flow of emotions throughout every episode.
Some choices that Barry makes are funny at first but quickly evolve to be undeniably serious, like getting his old Marine buddies to help him with a job. This juggling of tone is nearly flawless and never takes away from a moment whether it be comedic or dramatic.
The acting is another plus. It is the sole reason why the constant switching of tone works as well as it does. This show recontextualized Hader as an actor in my eyes. Prior to watching this I saw him as the funny guy from “Saturday Night Live” and nothing more, and now I see him as a heavyweight actor.
Every single performance is up to par with the main cast members. Even minor characters, such as Barry’s acting classmates, the Beignet Guy from season three, or Akhmal, despite only being in a couple scenes, are written in interesting ways that expand who they are. They are not simply side characters, but real people living in the world.
The only hurdle as a viewer that you may have to jump is the tone. Even though it juggles the tones well and transitions smoothly between them it is understandable if you don’t like that. If you’re not a fan of television shows that don’t have a single consistent tone you may not be a fan of “Barry.” But it is a relatively small hurdle to get over.
With complexities that fully utilize the Chekhov’s Gun story system and that has relatively few plot
holes, it is only natural to wonder what inspired Hader to write this story. In an interview with the Associated Press he cites Russian literature such as “Anna Kerenina” and “War and Peace” as the
original inspirations. He wanted to make Barry relatable in his prospects but not his life.
“What he’s striving for is something I think a lot of people would like or can relate to, but the thing that I never want to lose focus of is, you know, he murders people,” the actor said.
“Barry” is a complex journey through one man’s mind and redemption. As you further your stay with the show you will realize that you want all these characters to succeed and some you may find travel in the opposite direction.
The final season continues the trend of amazing writing and gripping episodes. Hader’s writing in the final season is steadily raising the bar on what television can be and the composition is showing his skill as a director.
With the series finale airing on May 28, I’m excited to see whether it can stick the landing and cement itself as one of the most well-crafted television shows of all time. It has made my Sunday nights better and makes the prospects of the Monday that comes a few hours later a lot less daunting.
At a Glance:
Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler
Summary: Disillusioned by his life, a down-on-his-luck hitman tries to become an actor.
Rated: TV-MA for mild sexual content, strong violence, profanity, and drug use
Where to Watch: Airing Sundays on HBO and Streaming on HBO Max
Final Episode: May 28, 2023 at 7 p.m Pacific Standard Time