A professional hitman in crisis stumbles across an acting class in the bowels of the San Fernando Valley and decides to put the killing behind to pursue his true purpose: acting. That, in a nutshell, is the elevator pitch for HBO’s dark comedy, Barry, for which Bill Hader – its star, co-creator, co-writer, and co-director won two Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actor.
After an extended hiatus (thanks to the pandemic industry shutdown) the celebrated series will return on Sunday, April 24 at 10 PM on HBO. If you’re concerned the extended wait will negatively impact the series’ new episodes, we can confirm that, after viewing the first six episodes of season 3, this may very well be the show’s best run yet.
HBO has released a laundry list of spoilers to avoid, so instead of picking apart plot points and story twists, we’re focusing on three components that have been steadily strong throughout the show’s run thus far: the acting, the writing, and the directing.
It was already mentioned that Hader has garnered two Emmys for his role as Barry Berkman in the series. Henry Winkler, who effortlessly plays his opinionated, pompous, and always put-upon acting teacher Gene Cousineau, received his own accolade for Outstanding Supporting Actor. They’re just two players in an offbeat ensemble that continues to add emotion, depth, and humor to each and every scene.
First, there’s Stephen Root’s Monroe Fuches. Barry’s handler who went off the rails in season 2 and is, for all intents and purposes, on an unhinged vengeful warpath against his former hitman prodigy. Sarah Goldberg’s consistently positive Sally Reed is finding success in Hollywood, but her emotional fortitude is struggling to bear the weight of it all. Goldberg goes all-in this season as Sally grapples with new success and a toxic trauma that continues to linger. Meanwhile, she’s maintaining a romantic relationship with Barry – an unsustainable situation, to be sure.
Then there’s NoHo Hank, the uniquely hilarious Chechen mafia leader played impeccably by Anthony Carrigan. Initially, Hank was put in Barry’s sights as a kill target in the show’s first episodes. The two became odd buddies, only for Barry to eviscerate his fellow henchmen in a fit of rage against Fuches in season 2. Now, going into season 3, Carrigan’s villain with a heart of gold is at the center of a burgeoning war between the Chechen and Bolivians, and, as weird as things get, he continues to hold court as the absolute standout of the series. He’s a constant joy to watch.
Reminiscent of the early days of Breaking Bad, the HBO comedy is heightening the stakes and quickening the pace as Barry uncontrollably barrels towards his rock bottom. The partnership between co-creators Alec Berg (Silicon Valley, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Hader continues to follow through on a deeper auteur-like mission, elevating what’s possible for 30-minute episodic television entertainment. Outdoing himself, Hader steps behind the camera to direct five of the new season’s eight episodes – and is planning on helming all of season 4.
That type of creative control regarding the show’s story, the emotional journey his character is going on, and its indie movie-style visual palette, rests mostly on Hader’s shoulders. And considering how Barry’s identity crisis, shame, and anxiety are only getting worse, it’s not a far stretch to consider that the SNL alum’s own mental health issues (for which he’s been quite public) played a part in authentically telling this story.
Thematically, Season 3 of Barry is all about redemption and second chances. Barry isn’t at all out of the woods considering all the damage he’s caused – as a Marine, as a professional hitman, and, currently, as struggling actor Barry Block. Since he’s yet to reconcile the sins of his past, though, it feels that there’s only so much sweeping under the rug he can do before this little house of cards he’s stacked comes crashing down on him and each person he comes in contact with. Sally, NoHo Hank, Cousineau, and Fuches are on the front lines of this man’s chaos, whether they know it or not.
In fact, the unraveling is already happening. Season 2 ended with Cousineau learning the truth about his girlfriend’s death. Of all the law enforcement entities Barry had faced, it was Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome) who saw through his lies. He shot her dead at Cousineau’s lake house in the season 1 finale. Once a killer, always a killer.
And that’s the rub, really. Like Liam Neeson before him, Barry’s gifted with a unique set of skills, and he hates them with every fiber of his being. 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.
But as we’ve seen before, violent men with seemingly good intentions (shout out to Dexter Morgan) can’t fake it to make it forever. It’s just not sustainable. Running from his past will eventually destroy his present, future, and the lives of those in his wake. How long can he run?
How the cookie crumbles remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the comedy that Berg and Hader built hasn’t lost any of its bite during the hiatus between seasons. In fact, these new episodes are out to draw blood. Barry Season 3 is a hilarious, gut-wrenching, violent gift – it’s darker, meaner, and funny as ever. The wait has been worth it.
Barry Season 3 premieres Sunday, April 24 at 10 PM on HBO.
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