The pandemic has given us a bunch of shows that are now operating on British-like schedules, with many years passing in between seasons. The latest is Barry, whose last episode aired in May 2019. After watching the first few episodes of Season 3, it does seem that the intervening three years have given Bill Hader and his co-creator Alec Berg a chance to mine even darker corners of their characters psyches. But is it just as wickedly funny?
BARRY SEASON 3: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: As a man begs to not be killed, Barry Bergman (Bill Hader) stands a hundred feet away from the tree and the hole his target dug. He’s eating a donut.
The Gist: It’s been a number of months since Barry, in an effort to kill his betraying former mentor Fuches (Stephen Root), managed to kill just about everyone working for and with NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobol Sifuentes (Michael Irby), and he’s feeling lost. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is now living with him, and she’s immersed in producing a pilot based on the dramatic piece she did with Barry. Barry is not auditioning, and he’s finding people seeking hit men on the dark web, leading to situations where he’s dealing with indecisive amateurs.
Hank and Cristobol are now living together in bliss, still planning joint criminal operations. Sarah is cracking a bit under the pressure of being the showrunner on her pilot, she politely berates former classmate and new assistant Natalie (D’Arcy Carden) for talking up in a meeting. Fuchs is in the Chechen mountains until “things cool off” in LA.
Gene (Henry Winkler), still distraught over seeing the body of Janice (Paula Newsome) and hearing from Fuchs that Barry killed her, is being questioned by Detective Mae Dunn (Sarah Burns) about Fuchs, who Hank IDed as Janice’s killer and a Chechen assassin called “The Raven.” But Gene is looking to get his revenge on Barry.
In desperation, Barry asks Hank for work, and Hank tells him to fuck off. His anger is at such a razor’s edge that he envisions shooting Sally in the head while she’s talking to him. He does the same with Gene, who think’s he’ll shoot Barry with a gun given to him by Rip Torn, until the cylinder falls out. Barry is about to kill his new mentor, despite the love he has for Gene — until he comes up with a plan.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Is there any show that’s relentlessly dark, and consistently funny, as Barry? Not really. This is a show that had a 12-year-old girl act rip a piece of Fuches’ face off in season 2, and it’s gone even darker and more violent in Season 3. The only show that did something similar is Breaking Bad, believe it or not.
Our Take: Yes, Season 2 of Barry was pretty damn dark. But now, we’re out of the controlled environment of Gene’s class and out into the greater Hollywood entertainment community. And with Barry’s secrets pretty much out in the open to anyone who cares about him aside from Sally, it’s fascinating to see how he manages to not only stay out of prison but somehow is still able to mentally outrun his PTSD-enhanced violent nature.
In other words, the show is taking an even darker turn in Season 3, as we’ve mentioned. But it’s also just as funny as its first two seasons were. Every major player in the cast is at least 20% more awful than they were at the end of the previous season — yes, even Gene, who has to literally make a deal with the devil (Barry) in order to save his life. But in being more awful, they’re also playing to the contrasts in their personalities. And since we know this core group pretty well by now, we’re on board with all of their awfulness.
For instance, can anyone be as awful as Sally? Barry kills people for a living and Fuches is only out for Fuches. Hank is needy and vain. Gene is a pariah around casting offices because he’s been terrible to just about everyone he’s come in contact with. But Sally pretends to care despite the fact that her life perspective is the most inward of all of the characters. And having her now be the boss brings out the worst in her self-serving tendencies, with her cast, Natalie and especially Barry.
Hader’s co-creator, Alec Berg, is no stranger to putting his awful characters in new situations that bring out different aspects of their awfulness, as fans of Silicon Valley would know. But because he and Hader have built audience goodwill for two seasons, we can now laugh at Barry putting bullets in the head of both his client and the victim, simply because the client changed his mind. We know the depths of Barry’s blind rage and the fact that he’s begging Hank for work just to give him purpose is a funny prospect because we know what came before, as is Hank and Cristobal finally declaring their love for each other.
Taking everyone out of their well-established comfort zones is a risky move, but it pays off here by sending the characters in new directions and exploring personality deficits that we haven’t seen before.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Happy to know he doesn’t have to kill Gene, Barry points the gun at him and says with a smile, “Get back in the trunk.”
Sleeper Star: Elizabeth Perkins plays a network executive who seems to be clueless enough to ask if Sally’s character lives with the daughter character on the show.
Most Pilot-y Line: Barry’s on the phone with a potential client from the dark web, and he asks “I’m buying flowers for my girlfriend; do the different colors mean different things?” It’s one of those incongruous lines that’s pretty endemic to Barry’s character, given his desire to be “normal” and not violent, but for some reason, this one didn’t land.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Three years and a pandemic has done nothing to dull the edges of Barry or Bill Hader’s funny and sometimes frightening performance, and Winkler and the rest of the cast are still at the top of their games in the third season.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.