Wednesday, April 17, 2024

It’s Curtain Call Time For “Barry”

*Minor spoilers ahead* Read at your own discretion.

The time has come for “Barry” to take its final bow as one of the most exhilarating shows on TV. HBO is breaking many hearts as two of their most beloved series come to an epic conclusion on May 28th; “Succession” and “Barry.” Both shows have many devoted fans, and saying goodbye to them simultaneously is bittersweet. Sunday nights will soon feel slightly more empty without these incredible shows causing a stir among fans. The two could not be more different, but both have captured the audience’s imagination. “Barry” has become one of the most beloved comedy series ever. Back in 2018, Bill Hader emerged as this strange Marine veteran turned assassin who wants to be an actor in LA. After four seasons of following this psychopathic lunatic, the 30-minute comedy format has been forever changed for the better.

Co-created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, “Barry” has won 9 Emmy awards and received f44 overall nominations for the first three seasons. The show has consistently delivered witty banter amongst these troubled humans while never letting the destruction of their worlds go unnoticed. This is about assassins and criminal gangs, after all. Each episode is crafted so we, as the audience, get to sit in anxiety while sometimes nervously, sometimes cathartically laughing at some of the mayhem. Unlike other comedies, “Barry” is not afraid of bloodshed, boiling anger, or examining obscure figures in a shadowy space. The show is enticing for making us laugh at first glance and not shortly after, forcing us to pick our jaws up off the blood-soaked floor. A main highlight of the show has always been its actors and their exciting performances as the chaos leaps out at unexpected moments. Their storytelling abilities lock us in the show’s terror and escapist fun.

Previously known for his time on SNL and a few subsequent independent films, Bill Hader decided to take complete creative control of “Barry.” This was his first venture into writing, acting, and directing simultaneously. With his vision being supplied in all areas, he has shown the audience many of his previously undiscovered talents over the past four seasons. He pairs dark humor with the thriller and horror genres to create a show unlike anything else on television. These last two seasons, in particular, have felt more frightening, with long pauses and dark corners than ever before. This fantasy Barry had of becoming an actor one day turned into a hellish nightmare. Barry is a scarred and disturbed man but can also be passionate. Hader is brave enough to explore the dangerous and happier territories of his mind. His scenes show a caring and protective side of Barry but also an unrelenting and primitive nature. Hader performs with a simmering angst and desire to change by unrelentingly vocalizing his frustrations while showcasing vulnerability at Barry’s weakest moments.

Not only has Hader received two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, but he also has won the Director’s Guild of America Award for Directing in a Comedy Series for all three years the show has been eligible. For the show’s fourth and final season, Hader decided to direct every episode, which was another first for him, and it’s been a rewarding decision. He has proven time and time again that his episodes are the ones that leave the audience breathless and in awe. In one episode, he tells a story without ever having to speak, wheezing in the backseat of a car (“Candy asses,” Season 3, Episode 7). You are locked into his vision with brimming anxiety and long holds on the frames. Carl Herse, the cinematographer, has captured the overwhelming stress by using space, tension, and ghostly colors. The specificity is top of the class, with wide shots and warped close-ups. This team has made “Barry” a wild stand out amongst other comedies being created today. And with each passing episode, Hader’s radiating storytelling only continues to expand. Hader’s impressive attention to detail and fearless choice to explore every corner of this tumultuous story is worthy of every accolade the industry has to offer, and we’ll likely not see anything else like it for a while once it all comes to an end this Sunday (that is until Hader finally makes his feature film directorial debut).

Another incredible performer on “Barry” has been Sarah Goldberg as Sally Reed. This young woman hoping to make it in the Hollywood industry as an actress slowly gets intertwined in Barry’s world and trapped inside her own insecurities. As the seasons progress, this giddy light that Sally once had has turned darker. Goldberg still manages to find the dark humor in her scenes and brings bold honesty to this woman that can’t seem to hold onto a real win. Sally’s frustration with the world festers inside her as she feels cast aside when she’s just getting started. Her career is ripped away by the end of Season 3, and she decides to leave Barry. Quickly after her highest successes, she discovers her lowest. Goldberg has fully committed to each of her scenes and bears all in her quest to find Sally’s truth. Many moments involving Sally have stuck with audiences as each season came to its shocking conclusion. One of her most enamoring scenes this season took place in Season 4, Episode 4, “It Takes a Psycho,” where she performed for Oscar Winner Sian Heder directly in front of a superhero character. Sally wanted to be the mega girl and took her chance. She tearfully pulsed with ambition and longing and absolutely nailed every beat of it. Sarah Goldberg continues to shine in Season 4, further exploring this woman who can’t find her place as an individual or passion for being an artist again.

NoHo Hank is a mob boss who is the complete opposite of what a mob boss is supposed to be. He is outrageous, goofy, and unpredictable. But that’s what makes Anthony Carrigan’s character intriguing to watch. Carrigan has continuously brought his A-game every season of the show’s run. He is the main comedic relief in the swarm of thematically dark character work from Hader and Goldberg, with the occasional bit of murder. Barry is quiet and inside of himself, whereas Hank is boisterous and doesn’t take the world too seriously. He manages to put on a smile and dance, no matter the circumstances, even if there is a bleeding man in front of him. His position with the Chechens eventually rises and falls, and he loses almost everything by the end of season 3, shotgun in hand. Carrigan’s darker work these past two seasons has only added further complexity to his character. In a pivotal scene for Hank during “It Takes a Psycho,” he makes a critical decision and shatters into a bunch of broken pieces as a result. He is raw and shaken as he makes a choice he believes is correct, but it costs him dearly on an emotional level. Carrigan’s ability to swiftly shift his emotionality from scene to scene is a wonder to behold. While more known for the comedic bits he brings to “Barry,” Carrigan’s dramatic work has an undeniable weight, which only adds to the show’s layers.

Every show needs a good villain, right? That’s where Fuches comes in, Barry’s former boss. Fuches and Barry originally built a decent working relationship but have grown apart as Fuches continues to be possessive and overly sensitive over his connection to Barry. He is the bug in the ear or a family member you can’t seem to escape from. Stephen Root has done a fantastic job of trying to play a kingpin and failing miserably. Fuches’ influence over Barry eventually became unbearable, and he lost those who surrounded him. As Barry tries to move on, Fuches turns on him with full force, revealing the secrets of their past and setting Barry down a long, winding road toward redemption or damnation (to be determined). Root has always managed to lean into his character’s expanding darkness and pettiness while dealing with his fondness for Barry, which reappears and leaves in an instant. He’s great at being evil without having to resort to anger. In Season 2, Episode 8, “berkman> block,” Fuches utters a malicious whisper to Gene, betraying Barry in the process. Barry and Fuches’ attempts to have the other killed have yet to come to a close since Barry’s murderous attack in that same episode. A consistent character actor, Stephen Root is excellent for his ability to revel in the disdain for Barry and then jump into a kinder, gentler version of the character when needed for his manipulative schemes to play out. With appearances in both “Succession” and “Barry” this year, they speak volumes about Root’s solid acting ability but also his impeccable taste in television.

An actor prepares, and this actor teaches. Gene Cousineau is an actor and acting teacher who has since faded into obscurity, which Barry Berkman happens to stumble across. As Barry starts to attend his class, Cousineau begins to turn into his mentor. Slowly he coaxes Barry away from being a hitman without even knowing. Henry Winkler has taken this wise acting coach and given him heart and a quiet selfishness. Often Cousineau makes strange self-driven decisions like focusing too much on students instead of his home, being off-putting to industry professionals, or talking to the press when he shouldn’t be. Winkler makes Gene endearing and a bit erratic in how he behaves while never losing the audience’s sympathy ever since a meaningful death impacted him after the events of Season 1. This eventually leads Cousineau to fret over the undiscovered killer of his beloved girlfriend, Janice. In “starting now,” Season 3 Episode 8, Gene captures his target, and he is silently thrilled at finally being able to outsmart and outplay Barry Berkman. Henry Winkler’s close-up in that scene has remained ingrained in the audience’s mind. Now he will face his opponent one last time as Season 4 comes to a close. Winkler continually nails his performance and has already received an Emmy for his work on Season 1. Still, many are hoping to see him and his co-stars named as nominees again this coming Emmy award season.

Bill Hader and Alec Berg have built an extremely dark comedy that proves there is a payoff in the bending of genres and expectations of what a comedy television show can be. To those who can’t admire this anti-hero’s killer nature with the lighter, silly interactions, you’re missing the whole point of the show. The two can exist simultaneously. Most want to be able to laugh at something during a story and then have it snatched out of their hands when they don’t expect it. It is exciting to be surprised by such jolts in tone. Bill Hader is a force of nature who, as an artist, does not limit himself, which many people admire and strive to achieve.

Hader currently has three feature scripts in development, and the buzz around town suggests he will be directing a horror film in which he will also star. If he continues expanding his storytelling abilities into the exciting visual realm of feature filmmaking, many will support him due to their love for “Barry.” His work on “Barry” and how he’s expressed his passion in interviews has given many an undeniable desire to create stories and work on them with the right team. “Barry” has explored a spectrum of emotions and cinematic techniques through its assured writing, performances, and direction, which far outpaces any other comedy on television today and maybe over every other show out there altogether. Each season has left us wanting more and astounded by the work on display from Hader and his team of collaborators. This show will forever be a prime example of art at its most limitless and perplexingly stimulating. As “Barry” takes its final bow and the curtain falls for this group of performers, no matter what the story outcome reveals itself to be for these characters, they’ve already earned their flowers on the fresh and indelible stage they have created.

Are you excited for “Barry’s” final episode this Sunday? What have you thought about Season 4 as a whole so far? How do you think it will end? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Jordan and hear more of his thoughts on the Emmys and TV on Twitter at @Jordan_Hudec

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