BARRY (HBO) is one of my favorite shows. Piloted by and starring Bill Hader, the series takes its conventional, almost silly premise to lofty heights and sometimes the darkest depths. The fourth season is the darkest yet. With its pronounced tonal shift, it wasn’t my favorite season, but it did not disappoint as a final season. In fact, it ended the series beautifully.
The show is about a Marine Afghanistan War veteran who came home with problems stemming from the war, and winds up manipulated by a family friend into becoming a hitman. He’s done with that life now, is looking for a path to redemption, and stumbles into an acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (the great Henry Winkler, chewing the scenery). Firmly believing that no matter what evil you’ve done you can still make things right and be a good person, Barry finds love with Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and tries to become a professional actor. His past won’t let him go, however, no matter how hard he tries, drawing him back into various jobs, most of them related to the Chechen mafia, where he does a lot of interacting with Noho Hank (the hilarious Anthony Carrigan).
The result is surprisingly funny, pitching quirky criminals next to extreme violence, sort of like PULP FICTION but not trying so hard. Hader said he wanted the subtle comedy to always be there but for the violence to always be real. That’s all good, and the result is fantastic. But what makes Hader truly brave as an artist how the show evolves naturally across its four seasons from mostly comedy to become a dark tragedy. At the end of every season, he and the other writers paint BARRY into a corner, and then the next season they keep it going in a way that totally makes sense. Unfortunately, for these characters, this means always trying to do better but due to their flaws failing and gradually becoming by the end their worst selves. Denial is a major theme of the show, how we can fake being something else but if we don’t confront our flaws we are who we are, and some in BARRY’s season 4 find something like redemption, while others fall way short.
Every plotline and character is tied off beautifully, and this last season has an almost Shakespearean feel to it. Hader directed most of the episodes himself, and it shows in his particular style–a lot of wide shots, soft colors, people walking off into darkness, big closeups, overall composition. The result was far less intimate than the previous seasons, but I think this was intentional, particularly in the second half of the season, where we have a surprising change in the narrative and we start focusing on these people being in denial. There aren’t as many laughs and much less violence compared to prior seasons, but the ones we get pack a solid punch.
Overall, I applaud Hader for what he accomplished with BARRY. It’s an amazing show, and by the end you realize you got so, so much more than the premise promised, a show that isn’t just about a hitman trying to be an actor but a darkly comic Shakespearean tale of the search for redemption.