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Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘Barry’ solidifies itself as one of the best TV shows of the decade

Premiering in 2018 as a dark comedy and shifting to a drama by the final season, "Barry" has cemented itself as one of the best shows within the last decade. 

Written by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, with Hader directing seasons three and four, "Barry" takes the viewer through a journey to discover what redemption truly means and whether it is possible to change one's nature.

Hader plays Barry, a depressed serial killer who takes a job in Los Angeles for the Chechen mafia that requires him to kill a member of an acting class, Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore). While scoping out his target, Barry explores the class led by acting teacher Gene Coissino (Henry Winkler) and develops a crush on Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg). Barry begins to feel a sense of purpose and belonging in acting.

Although tension arises as Barry tries to leave his old life, his manager Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) pressures him to return to his old life with the help of the mafia leader Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) and his right-hand man, NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan).

Through all four seasons, Hader and Berg created a TV show that transcends genres and keeps viewers at the edge of their seats, with Hader doing a fantastic job directing seasons three and four in particular. "Barry" is a perfect example of the common screenwriting proverb,  “Show, don't tell.” Through the fantastic cinematography, unique camera angles and one-takes, the show exemplifies this point and highlights the talents of Hader as a director. 

One of the best examples of the show's unique spin on classic movie and TV show tropes is the motorcycle chase in season three, episode six. The chase sequence truly felt like something I had never seen before. There were no massive explosions or over-the-top action, but rather the episode’s grounded aesthetic gave all the thrills without the help of a musical score. Using one-takes and distinct camera angles, Hader created an engaging sequence that juxtaposes an intense chase with humorous moments without feeling tacky. 

“Barry” is a unique show because the creators were willing to take risks. The show never panders to fans or tries to copy other successful shows. Each arc of the show feels natural. The characters are written consistently throughout all seasons, allowing for engaging analysis of the story as characters change from the start to the end. Thanks to the fantastic writing, the show has multiple layers to peel back. "Barry" stands on its own, which has become a rare thing to say in modern media.

On top of the show’s fantastic writing and cinematography, the actors and actresses emphasize the subtle changes to their characters over the course of four seasons.

Hader showcases his dramatic side as an actor as he can deliver all the emotional nuance and internal conflict his character feels while still delivering comedic moments that do not disrupt the story. To turn the psychopathic killer Barry into a compelling, emotionally investing individual is a testament to the acting and writing in the show. Any time Barry slips up, a sense of desperation comes over the viewer as it reminds the audience who he truly is. 

At the character’s heart, Barry clouds what it means to be a moral human being and whether one can truly change for the better. Hader shines in bringing that through to the character.

Wrinkler portrays Gene as an egocentric acting teacher who is well past his prime and has shifted into a new stage in life, trying to reconcile his past mistakes to become an altruistic member of society. Just like Hader's performance as Barry, Winkler does a splendid job showing how Gene has the potential to change but continues to backslide into his old habits.

Carrigan does a magnificent job portraying NoHo Hank. Rather than play a stereotypically dark and brooding mafia member, Carrigan subverts expectations and brings joyous dark humor to the show as he portrays a blissful character struggling to establish dominance over his gang. I loved the costume design for the character, as he is typically seen wearing bright modern clothes. Although NoHo Hank is typically a bubbly character, Carrigan does a superior job when hitting the show's more dramatic moments, especially in season four.

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Goldberg is another standout with her portrayal of Sally Reed. Goldberg is great at portraying Reed as a character who craves affection and recognition. Her arc is fascinating to see play out, and her character shows the double standard of a female actress in Hollywood. Her role in the show is pivotal, and Goldberg hits all the right beats.

Root's character, Fuches, has a devilish personality that continues to pull Barry back into a life he no longer desires. Although Fuches is one of the most evil characters in the show, ironically, his character gives the most compelling evidence for being able to change one's nature. Fuches goes from the most hated character to the most compelling, a testament to Root's acting ability.

I highly recommend “Barry” to anyone who has not seen it. The show is a masterclass in modern TV, but I was sad to see the show overlooked because it premiered alongside “Succession.” 

The complex look at morality, redemption and human nature sticks long after the final episode. Although Hader is taking a short vacation from making features, I cannot wait to see what he has planned next.

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