2018’s best television show is back with the potential for even darker, sardonic humor that is headlined by Bill Hader’s great performance. Barry can’t be classified as a comedy or drama, it’s just as perfect as television can get.
This recap of Barry Season 2 Episode 1 contains spoilers.
Until last year, I never really had any hope Bill Hader would have a successful career outside of sketch comedy. The rubber-faced comedian has the innate ability to do an impression of anyone at the drop of a hat and the improv-stage ability of Robin Williams. That all changed when Barry premiered last year, as a hitman with a good heart, very little soul, who just wants to be happy; I never looked at Hader the same again. Here is a dark comedy that can be electric at times, with real spine-tingling suspense, which had an overwhelming tension that built up until the season’s final moments. It was so perfect, I echoed the feeling of a review I read before I binged-watched the entire show, from New York Times writer James Poniewozik. He wrote, “The end of the first season of “Barry” was so good it made me never want to watch the show again.” So, I was skeptical about season two, worried that, just maybe, things could only go downhill from that glorious end of episode eight. I wish I could tell you I was relieved of all concerns because Barry is like a book; each chapter builds to the next, and not one episode can exist without the other.
Last season ended with our anti-hero, Barry Berkman, who had a key piece of information come up during dinner on a weekend getaway with his acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), his girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and Gene’s love of his life, Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome). Gene recalls the story Barry told him (he thought he was doing a monologue) about a hitman who wanted to do something outside the killing of people. Janice sneaks off in the middle of the night with her computer and to re-watch a grainy video of a menacing silhouette without a face, that walked away from a murder that started the entire investigation. She is then confronted by Barry on the dock, who begs her to let it go, put it behind them, and live happily ever after. Paula Newsome, just like she did in Little Miss Sunshine, delivers a line that sums it up beautifully, “I’m a cop, and you’re a ******* murderer.” Seconds later we see flashes of gunshots from the window above Sally, as she sleeps the night away. Later, Barry gets back in bed with her, looking as if he is thinking, “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”
As we cut to season two, Barry’s handler, Fuches (Stephen Root), has a new hitman that leads the police right to his motel room after a hit goes bad. Barry is trying to keep a production that is going to be performed by his acting class, but they don’t want the show to go on since Gene is distraught by the disappearance of his beloved Janice. Meanwhile, the new partnership of Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Cristobal (Michael Irby) is going smashingly, but Cristobal wants to bring in Esther, the head of the Burmese crime family, to help with the muscle to deal heroin across the city. Hank then tells his family that Esther, not Barry, killed Goran, so he will owe him a favor, telling Barry he needs to perform a “classic crisscross” to get rid of the Burmese problem.
The reason season one of Barry worked so well is that each chapter was entertaining while shifting gears in later episodes, into its final thrilling episodes about dark moral compasses, each episode building on the next. The first episode’s main goal is to address the Janice issue and get Gene back into the classroom to keep the acting class narrative moving. Most of the humor comes from Carrigan’s cartoon-like approach to Hank and the comic chemistry he has with Irby’s Cristobal, which also always has you on the edge of your seat because it has the most potential to be combustible. The show though is ultimately held together by Bill Hader, whose character is one of the best television has produced this decade, on a network that has created dozens of them.
Even though Barry, I believe, is best not watched but consumed with multiple episodes, because this show has a flow about it, which makes it more akin to a long film that an episodic series. If the premiere is any indication, this is a mere stepping stone into what will be a season of humor that is even darker than the last and has the potential to be more intense. Hader and showrunner Alec Berg have created a show that I wouldn’t classify as a comedy or a drama; it’s just as perfect as television can get.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.