Season 1: 4 stars
Season 2: 5 stars
Despite taking the States by storm, Barry has been a pretty low-key show on this side of the pond. With 30 Emmy nominations, the HBO show tells the story of Barry (Bill Hader), a hitman who follows his target to an acting class in Los Angeles, and, by some miracle of fate, decides to pursue acting.
Barry intertwines two completely different worlds beautifully, with both developing so smoothly and intricately. The influence of each one on the other is clear. They complicate each other; they complement each other. These two worlds, one of a brutal war-veteran-turned-hitman, Barry Berkman, and one of the struggling actor, Barry Block, really sound like two different shows at face value, but the show uses this to its advantage, constantly comparing and contrasting the two worlds, letting them collide, and most importantly, letting Barry make mistakes that cause his past to constantly catch up with him, no matter how hard he tries to run away. It’s very out there, but this approach allows it to cover a lot of ground.
The show is hilarious at times, but it would be a disservice to call it a comedy per se. It is the journey of a man struggling to make himself get better against all odds. Despite the absurdity, the progression of events is natural. Although shocking at times, the show makes sure that no plot point is simply there to act as a twist and throw the audience off, even though they do just that more than occasionally. The show takes you from laughing out loud to gasping for air within the next scene.
The acting and characterisations are very strong across the board, although there’s a few people who go above and beyond. Henry Winkler plays the role of the failed-actor-turned-acting-coach, providing a lot of comic relief. A lot of what he says, and perhaps more importantly, the way he says them are so exceptionally funny, yet I have no doubts that such people really do exist in Hollywood. However, where Winkler deserves the most credit is in the scenes where his character shows emotions. This is rare, but beautiful as many rare things are.
Anthony Carrigan embodies the upbeat Chechen gangster NoHo Hank so perfectly that the audience can’t help but sympathise with him. Sarah Goldberg pulls off Sally, the girl-next-door who Barry is deeply infatuated with exceptionally well. Sally is so grossly unlikeable, which is exactly what the show needs her to be to work. Goldberg has a strong monologue late into season 2 that not only sums her character up perfectly but also really shows off her acting chops.
However, the real MVP of the show is none other than Bill Hader, who’s co-created, executive produced, starred in, co-directed and co-written the show. Hader has a way of pulling Barry off, displaying the character’s internal turmoil with every inch of his being. It is a strong performance, yet it is his wonderful attention to detail, subtlety and precision as a writer and a director that makes the show.
Season 1 vs Season 2
The show is gripping from the get-go. However, I think it would be accurate to say that the majority of the first season is spent setting up the show. It is wildly entertaining, but it is only a hint of what’s to come in season 2. Both seasons are short, so I promise you’ll get to season 2 in no time anyway. So, sit tight and enjoy season 1.
Overall, the second season superior by far, as less energy is spent into establishing things and more on building things up. We find out more about what makes Barry himself, with flashbacks to his military past. We get to see what makes him snap, what makes him kill, and what makes him want to stop killing. It is all quite beautifully profound, really.
There is a few episodes that rise above the rest in season two. ronny/lily plays out a lot like a one-take sequence and is so bonkers that I had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn’t a dream sequence. I’m still not quite sure, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. The penultimate episode of the second season, The Audition, is, in broad terms, everything that makes the show great. The season finale, berkman > block s so incredibly bleak and honest and real that it was refreshing. The acting in this episode alone by Hader and Winkler is so extraordinary and special. Overall, the second season finale is probably one of my favourite TV episodes of the year.
Should you watch it?
A big yes. It’s difficult to put Barry into a box, but that only means that regardless of what genre tends to rock your boat, there is surely something in Barry that would tickle your fancy. Overall, Barry is brutal, it’s grimy, it’s smart, and it’s provocative. It’s honestly great.
The show has been renewed for season 3, which is expected to air starting March 2020.