The evolution of television’s best show is a high wire act and a sight to behold. Barry‘s third season is a jaw-dropping slow burn.
This review of HBO’s Barry season 3 contains minor spoilers. The season premiere will air on April 24th, 2022
There are very few comedies that have had such a perfect first two seasons as HBO’s Barry, a show that sounds too corny for the Hollywood elite and too inside for mainstream audiences. Yet, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s brilliant dark comedy balances both ends of the extreme like no other show you have ever seen. We watched Barry trying to manage his guilt and leave his life behind in the first season. We saw our manic thespian just aching to do and be reasonable during year two until he finally broke. Barry has been using acting to immerse himself as protection from his depression. Now that it has been absent from his life. If you thought Barry was in a dark place before, buckle up. Berkman ends up climbing out that tumble down that rabbit hole, but his mind is still sitting on rock bottom.
Hader’s Barry has been suffering from depression for months. He is isolating himself and has even lost interest in acting. Barry lives in Sally’s apartment, mostly sitting on a couch playing video games. His mentor, Gene (Henry Winkler), has closed down his actor’s studio. He spends most of his time with his son and grandson and at the police station, insisting Barry is responsible for his lover’s murder.
Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is writing, directing, and starring in a show called Joplin, a new streaming series about a mother and daughter (played by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) dealing with male toxicity in Missouri. No-Ho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) runs heroin sales from a makeshift nursery out of a parking lot. Finally, Fuches (Stephen Root) is hiding overseas by the Chechens, where he has found love and purpose on a goat farm.
That’s the setup. We will give you the plot — Barry has hit rock bottom in both professions. He no longer has Fuches or Hank to book him jobs, so he hits angry citizens on Craigslist. He thinks he has another shot of reclaiming the life he had in his grasp when Gene contacts him months after ghosting him. Now Cousineau asks him to stop by the studio. Barry is looking for forgiveness without admitting his crimes, while Cousineau is looking for closure.
The first six episodes of Barry season 3 were screened for critics, and it’s a bit of a slow burn. Berg and Hader smartly avoid series tropes of neatly wrapping up finale plot points with lazy plot devices to put the series back on track. The team here doesn’t fight or even avoid it, as they embrace the predicament they put themselves in. Gene knows Barry killed Janice. They play a dramatic long game and work hard to put together a plausible storyline of navigating Hollywood schemers, manipulators, and the intoxicating grip of the spotlight.
There is also the refreshing storyline of Goldberg’s Sally and Barry. In the past, Sally would be too preoccupied with becoming a star and living in shame of a past abusive relationship. She was unmindful of her surroundings, perhaps consciously attracted to Barry being a protector, even unconsciously being drawn to him because of the toxicity he was failing to hide.
There is a scene between Sally and Barry that’s frightening. Barry is now in a manic state. He is desperate to right wrongs, while his rage is no longer controlled. Frankly, he has never been this unhinged. The way this interaction is handled and the result is honest. Why? Because these characters are in different places in their life than in past seasons. It’s rare to create the feeling of being unsettled, disturbed, and regretful but forthright with beloved characters.
As stated above, the long-awaited third season develops patiently and methodically. Every scene, action, and plot point leads to an explosive end to its sixth episode. The series still has its trademark dark humor and self-deprecating inside Hollywood humility. The difference here is that all points from previous seasons lead to a dark intensity while sacrificing a fair portion of comic relief. You are still treated to terrific performances, belly laughs, surprising plot points, and awe-inspiring tracking shots, like in Sally’s onset showcase in the premiere and Barry’s chase scene that left me speechless.
The evolution of television’s best show is a high wire act and a sight to behold.
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