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TV TATTLE

In Season 3, Barry is even better at juggling genres

  • "So much of this exceptional third season of Barry, returning to HBO after a three-year absence prolonged by the pandemic, is steeped in two contradictory tones or elements bumping up against each other," says Jen Chaney, adding that one of the things that makes Barry so good "is its ability to balance more than one concept at a time. Very few shows can jockey between genres and handle each with as much finesse as Barry. It’s an extremely funny comedy and it’s a suspenseful crime thriller that effectively keeps its audience guessing. This season, thanks to the story line that focuses on Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and her first experience as the showrunner and star of her own streaming series, it’s also a satire of contemporary TV as barbed and wry as anything on The Other Two. And given its collisions between hitmen, international crime syndicates, and innocent bystanders, Barry continues to excel as an action series. There’s an extended chase sequence in the sixth episode of the new season that will knock off your shoes, socks, and, quite possibly, all of your toenails. What’s so fitting about Barry’s ability to do multiple, sometimes contradictory things at once is that its characters are essentially struggling to do the same thing in their own lives."

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    • Barry has never been scarier, and Bill Hader has never been better: "I've never seen violence like the violence on Barry," says Darren Franich. "HBO's hitman comedy is a legitimate thrillfest, and the new season (debuting Sunday) has three of the best action scenes I've ever seen. But part of the show's busted-nerve tension is that you never know where the next shot is coming from — and whether you'll laugh or gasp. Surprising blood keeps erupting from seemingly healthy foreheads, another brain full of bullets. A middle-of-the-day showdown turns ultraviolent, then scary, then hilarious, then scary again, and still funny, in a sad way. Several human lives depend on the functionality of an iPhone app."
    • Barry is back to being one of TV's best shows after a disappointing Season 2: "One of the things that makes a show like this so tricky to do over the long haul is that it only works if you take the core idea seriously, but the more seriously you take it, the more you risk it losing the sense of fun that was so crucial to begin with," says Alan Sepinwall. "There are life-and-death consequences to the path Barry has chosen — not just for his victims, but for the survivors like Gene. Ignore the consequences, and the whole thing becomes too lightweight. Emphasize the consequences, and perhaps it becomes way too heavy. Hader and (fellow co-creator Alec) Berg have leaned very hard into the consequences not just for Barry, but for everyone. And it all fits into the larger topics the show has been discussing from the start, about the very thin line between those who kill on stage or screen and those who kill in real life. There is a level of narcissism and willful emotional blindness, Barry has long argued, to do well in either of Barry’s chosen professions, but the events of this new season make that level of obliviousness impossible."
    • Season 3 is even more confident, easily going from zany to scary to silly: "The episodes feel more suspenseful and more hilarious than the start of season two in their exploration of second chances and the complicated backsliding that’s inevitable when you try to wildly change your life," says Daniel Fienberg, adding: "The third season, thus far, is even more confident in its ability to be zany one moment, scary the next, silly for a little bit after that, and unexpectedly emotional throughout. It’s held together by Hader’s Emmy-winning performance, which continues to exhibit some of the widest range of any acting on television. Hader can bury grace notes in the most deadpan of minimalist beats and then he can enter a room yelling, nostrils flaring without a scintilla of evident subtlety, and somehow make both appear like genuine facets of what may be TV’s most brilliant-yet-guileless character."
    • There’s good TV, there’s great TV, and then there’s the new Barry: "If Barry weren’t a weekly release, you’d binge the new season in a single sitting. Each episode concludes with a cliffhanger, some action-packed others more emotional," says Josh Sorokach. "It’s difficult to imagine the show traveling down an even darker path, but the new season deftly explores the warped, cavernous depths of the mind of Barry Berkman, resulting in a fascinating meditation on grief, guilt, delusion, and forgiveness. But perhaps the most beguiling trick in the show’s arsenal is its ability to organically inject slice-of-life humor into the anything but ordinary world it created."
    • Season 3 makes for a richer and deeper character study than Barry has previously been: "In the past, this show (while always strong) sometimes seemed to require some audience patience as it set up its somewhat outlandish premise," says Daniel D'Addario. "That legwork is now done. Thanks to the show’s writing and to Hader’s remarkable performance, finding shades of meaning and expression within a character who presents at first as emotionally dead, we know exactly who Barry is. And we now get the complicated pleasure of watching him decompensate as he attempts to cheat his way toward an easy sort of redemption."
    • Bill Hader is as solid as ever as Barry, even as his role becomes trickier: Barry has to remain "a likable leading man with whom we somehow identify even has he does worse and worse things on screen," says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. "(There are moments this season when he’s bordering on psychopathic.) But it’s nice to see the playing field open up to the rest of the terrific cast. And his lift will likely get much heavier as the season continues beyond the four episodes this critic viewed for this review; the many storylines are converging toward a pretty bad place for our hero."
    • When all is said and done, Barry is a show about mental illness: "Like Liam Neeson before him, Barry’s gifted with a unique set of skills, and he hates them with every fiber of his being," says Aaron Pruner. "His disdain for how good he is at professional murder is a story mechanism steadily rife with humor, rage, and despair. That unpredictability, and the ease with which the show jumps from one tone to another, is what makes the HBO series so special. When all is said and done, Barry is a show about mental illness; It’s one man’s journey from extreme wartime trauma to the fallout that inevitably follows. Barry’s attraction to Cousineau’s acting class initially sounds silly, but it’s the facade of it all that presents to him a Rockwellian-style idea of living a thriving life, with a healthy family, a white picket fence, the whole shebang."
    • Just like prior seasons, the new episodes of Barry will evoke the inevitable question, “Is this even a comedy?”: "Yes, it is, but that’s almost beside the point," says Ben Travers. "Jokes are regular and regularly excellent throughout Season 3. There’s physical comedy, at which (Anthony) Carrigan in particular excels; there’s big buttons (like a chase culminating with a disastrous Uber mix-up) and throwaway buttons (like when Barry ends a scene by insisting he can make an unlikable character likable); there’s meta comedy (Allison Jones returns!) and character-building punchlines (so many jokes involving Gene tell a bigger story). Barry is a comedy in its bones. Laughs still emerge in fits of relief and excitement, but sometimes a joke is just irresistibly good, no matter the surrounding atmosphere. But just because it’s a great comedy, that doesn’t mean that’s all it has to be. (And whether or not it should be competing against network sitcoms and sillier fare is a question for the TV Academy, not creatives or viewers.)"
    • Watch Barry's Season 1 and Season 2 blooper reel
    • Anthony Carrigan doesn't remember the pre-pandemic script for Barry Season 3: "It’s so funny," he says. "I’m not sure if I quite remember what we read back then, because here’s the thing: There will be so many different versions that I’ll hear about. Especially if Bill calls me and he’s like, 'Dude, I’ve got the greatest idea.' I’m so excited about it and then all of a sudden the next draft comes out and I’ll be like, 'Whatever happened to that idea?' And he is like, 'Oh yeah, no, we scrapped that a while ago. That was really funny, but we’ve got something better.' I trust them to choose the right one that makes the cut." As for what Barry Season 3 offers, Carrigan says: "It’s ridiculous stakes. Because they are getting closer to what they want, there’s a direct parallel to how dangerous it becomes, either getting it or holding onto it. This season ramps up in a way that… I never thought that I would be surprised by how intense it gets, but I was genuinely surprised when I first read them. And I was genuinely just so hyped that the audience will get to see these characters get into even more compromising situations than they’ve already been in the past."
    • Bill Hader thinks the pandemic helped drive interest in Barry: "I do feel like a lot of people watched it during the pandemic because everybody was just binging shows," he says. "Some people I’ve talked to are coming to it recently, so the time off hasn’t been as long. But then the nice thing that I’ve also heard through the grapevine from people that work on this show is that people like to rewatch it because it’s not that big of a time commitment. You can kind of binge the whole show in a weekend if you wanted to. So, that was also nice to hear that people have gone back, which always surprises me."
    • Hader weighs in on whether Barry Berkman is a psychopath: “Oh my gosh. I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he says. “That would be interesting to see what someone would think about him. You know, I should ask a therapist.” Hader adds: “I think Season 1, he was telling himself that he had been manipulated to do this for a living. And then by Season 2, it’s kind of like maybe this is a part of me, can I change my nature? And now it’s the consequences of it. I think he’s never understood the consequences of himself being violent physically.”  

    TOPICS: Barry, HBO, Alec Berg, Anthony Carrigan, Bill Hader


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