Created by and starring Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader, Barry is still one of the smartest shows on TV.
American comedy The Good Place wore its philosophical heart on its sleeve, explicitly exploring morality, ethics and what makes someone a good person.
Barry traffics in many of the same questions, but it does so through a character who is paid to kill people for a living. And sometimes he just kills anyway, even when he’s not being paid.
When you have an eponymous character with a mounting body count, those questions of morality and redemption are paramount. It’s not that he has to be likeable – and Barry sometimes is and sometimes isn’t – it’s that the philosophical wrangling is inherent in how the series chooses to have Barry deal with his actions.
Can Barry ever be forgiven? Should he be forgiven? Does his pain and suffering offset his victims’? And does it matter if many of victims are murderers?
Created by its star Bill Hader and Silicon Valley writer Alec Berg, Barry is a dramedy where the humour is pitch black and the drama is layered with pathos. Returning this week for its third season after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus, it continues to be one of the smartest shows on TV.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the topline rundown is Barry is a former Marine who now works as a hitman. He’s sent by his handler Fuchs (Stephen Root) on assignment to LA and in order to get close to his target, he joins an acting class run by washed-up thespian Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler).
Lonely and depressed, Barry finds himself connecting with this group of wannabe stars, and he’s especially drawn to Sally (Sarah Goldberg). He realises that he’s not the only one who’s unmoored and challenged by life.
Of course, his secret is always on the verge of being revealed, especially when there are complications such as Chechen gangsters, including the irrepressibly charismatic Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), Bolivian drug rivals and investigating cops.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BARRY SEASONS ONE AND TWO
Three years may have passed in our world but only a few months have passed in Barry’s, which means his killing of Janice is still fresh and raw, especially for Gene who now knows of Barry’s other vocation.
Sally’s semi-autobiographical show is about to launch and she’s pulling double duty as showrunner and star while Noho Hank and Cristobal (Michael Irby) have settled into secret domestic bliss.
And in the middle of all this is Barry, still lost. His wholesale killings of the Chechens and Bolivians in season two, as well as the death of Janice has made him even more disconnected from his purpose, whatever that is, or anything resembling emotional wellbeing and clarity.
The first episode of the third season is titled “Forgiving Jeff” and it starts with a cold open in which Barry screams into a void, “there’s no forgiving Jeff”. In his voice, there’s anguish, disbelief and more than a hint of self-loathing.
There’s no forgiving Jeff because there’s no forgiving Barry – or so he thinks. Can you ever earn the forgiveness of someone you’ve wronged so greatly?
Barry has always expertly balanced its tragicomedy demands so that even the funniest moments are laced with sadness while exploiting the absurd in the gloom. It’s a precarious tension but Hader and Berg have mastered it.
Maybe that’s why it’s frequently unclear whether Barry is a comedy or a drama but then life is neither and both. So even in the heightened stakes of Barry’s world, there’s a weird relatability in its constant interrogation of this very flawed character.
It’s in that interrogation of Barry and his second (and third and fourth and fifth) chance that the series asks, can he ever be a good person? Can any of us?
Barry is on Foxtel On Demand, with new episodes available on Mondays
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