This is The Kind Of Series HBO Should Be Known For
It’s been almost three years since we left the carnage of the finale of Season 2 of Barry from the massacre that Barry started that killed off everybody but his targets of former mentor Monroe Fuchs, the performance that Sally Reed threw her past away in order to get the deal of her dream and when Barry’s acting instructor Gene Cousineau learned his detective girlfriend was dead and that Barry had killed her. I haven’t been breathless with anticipation quite as long as I was for Atlanta, but I really wanted to see where the series could possibly go from here. If the first two episodes are any indication, even darker territory lies ahead.
It’s been six months since Season 2 ended, and Barry is truly lost. He’s now taking hit jobs for hire on the Dark Web’s version of Craig’s List, and he can’t even carry them out well. Everywhere he goes he sees the faces of his loved ones with bullet holes in the forehead. In desperation, he goes to the home of Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), the Chechynan hit man whose troops he slaughtered in the Season 2 finale, begging for work and demanding forgiveness. ‘Forgiveness has to be earned,” Hank tells him, before misquoting The Shawshank Redemption about what to do next. Barry then finally manages to track down Gene, who has been in a similar tailspin. He meets with Barry with every intention of killing him, but at the critical moment his gun falls apart. Barry then plans to kill Gene, and then tries to come up to earn forgiveness.
Last night, he ended up spending the bulk of the episode driving around with Gene in his trunk, trying to get a job for him. This episode more than anything showed how beyond lost Barry is. He went to visit Sally at her show, begging him to find work for Gene, and when she told him it was impossible, he did everything but scream at her. When one of the stars of her show tried to report it to HR, it was a subtle message of just how broken the system for abusive women is. Barry tried to get a part with the woman held him an audition, and ended up with a reading for himself. Then he tried to get Gene to accept his forgiveness, telling him it’s either this ‘or I kill you.’ He managed to get the part he needed and one for Gene, only to find that Gene managed to escape the trunk of his car. Gene managed to get back hope and was about to tell his son to call the police…only to find Barry on the couch with his grandson. The last minute was one of the most truly frightening things on TV all year as Barry told Gene that he was going to take the part and accept everything that comes with it ‘or this one (his son) and this one (his grandson) go away.” In a closing that terrifying and pathetic, Barry asked Gene to say he loved him. After Gene managed to get it out, Barry asked him to say it again.
In my early reviews of Barry in Season 2, I wrote that I had failed to consider Bill Hader as one of the great comic actors of his era. Watching the first two episodes of Season 3, its clear Hader is one of the best actors on television, period. Watching Barry stumble from hits in the desert to talking with his girlfriend to potential auditions, Hader demonstrates that Barry has finally lost the thread of his life. There’s no path for him as a killer and he doesn’t seem to have it in him to be an actor. Even the lines he uses to persuade other people of his value are hijacked from his friends. In the previous two seasons, the monster was there, but Barry seemed to control it. Now he doesn’t want to make the effort any more. Hader more than deserved the two consecutive Best Actor Emmys he got in the first two seasons; his work so far in Season 3 leaps him well into contention for his third.
Now in case you’re wonder if Hader’s darkness has drained out all the fun of Barry, I assure you it hasn’t. Anthony Carrigan remains utterly perfect as Hank, now having an affair with the Colombian boss he tried to kill of just the previous season. When he’s called in for his first interrogation, he preens himself before he goes in, and seems to enjoy leading the police down a wrong path. Sarah Goldberg’s work as Sally is just as fascinating as hysterical, mainly as she tried to negotiate to ridiculous level of stardom she hasn’t earned and is trying to maneuver around — clueless executives and a ridiculous agent who just boosts everything even if it hurts her client. (Welcome back, D’Arcy Carden!) And for all the horrors that Gene has been through already, Henry Winkler continues to demonstrate his ability to find comedy through everything. When Barry tells him his plan is to keep him in his trunk until he finds Gene work, he just says: “That could take years!” When he manages to somehow escape, he finds himself running through the yard of a lesbian couple who are breaking up because one keeps too many dogs — — all of which are currently mauling Gene. When he tries to explain this to a bored pizza woman, his relating the story — and her utter lack of emotion — is hysterical. Winkler deserves another Emmy just for that scene alone. I actually kind of was upset when all five season regulars, including Stephen Root, received Emmy nominations back in 2019. Boy was I an idiot. It’s been two years, but I hope the Emmys have enough long term memory to give all of them nomination. (I know we’ve only seen Root in two scenes in the first episode so far. Tell me he hasn’t earned a nomination for a scene where he takes breakfast cereal out into a desolate plain and starts milking a goat.)
Barry is clearly one of the great achievements in television history; the rare mix of drama and comedy that has not yet gone over the top in one direction the way so many series like Weeds and Nurse Jackie did to stop to being funny. Most of the characters are just as lost and doomed as Nancy Botwin and Jackie Peyton were, but for a change that’s actually the reason to watch the series, not a drawback. I can see this being the kind of comedy series where the ending would matter just as much the prestige shows like Breaking Bad and The Americans were, and I can see it being just as hysterically funny as it was in the first season. Barry Berkman may be as irredeemable as Walter White or Tony Soprano were, but at this stage in the proceedings, it is more than clear that Barry will not be.
My score: 5 stars.