Barry: HBO’s Best Show in Years

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That’s right, we’re about to get a special brand of hot take-y up in this piece. I don’t mean HBO’s best comedy. It might be HBO’s best comedy of all time (hot take number two). Barry is a dark action comedy about a Midwestern hitman turned LA actor created by SNL alum Bill Hader and longtime HBO producer Alec Berg, and I want people to know my opinion is exactly what the headline says: Best. Show. In. Years.

When I say years, I mean four years. Specifically, 2014’s True Detective premiere. Season 1 of True Detective was a piece of art with compelling characters, irreverent humor, and tight action sequences. Everything on HBO since then has been an attempt to capture the phenomenon of that first season and the hype of early Game of Thrones. 2016’s Westworld came close, but apparently cowboy boobs are more niche than dragon boobs (hot take three) and it didn’t hit the public consciousness like Game of Thrones did, despite the Emmy nom.

Meanwhile, Veep has been HBO’s comedy darling since it premiered in 2012. It’s grabbed a nomination for best Comedy Series for each of its six seasons, and has taken the win the last three consecutive years. Veep is sharper and quicker than nearly any show out there, but its crass abrasiveness has kept in from being a cultural icon (hot take number four). America isn’t ready for premium cable comedy yet. They still want Young Sheldon and Last Man Standing.

Along comes Barry. If you haven’t watched it this is your moment to stop, take four hours, and watch every episode. I’m not planning on spoiling anything major when I talk about the show, but you should watch it anyway because you trust my taste and judgment. Seriously it’s only four hours. Eight episodes. Do it.

Did that convince you? If it did, awesome. If not, whatever. Keep reading. I’ve got some strong arguments coming up.

First of all, the show meets my primary benchmark for any comedy: is it funny? The answer is yes. I rank it as the third funniest show out right now, following NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place (not the hottest take but i’ll count it, FIVE), but comparing the humor of Barry to either of those shows does it a disservice. The humor in Barry sneaks up on you. I would start laughing before I knew I was laughing, and before I even remembered I was watching a comedy. The jokes are incredibly organic to the realism of the show and its world. Almost every scene of Bill Hader as Barry acting like someone who has never acted had me in stitches. It’s simultaneously over-the-top and grounded in a way that a show with a different concept wouldn’t be able to be.

The show’s well-crafted jokes act as the perfect tension release for the show’s high drama. Don’t get me wrong. This is an 8-episode emotional roller coaster. Again, I’m not going to drop any spoilers on you, but you’re gonna get sad. You’re gonna get really sad and you’re going to like it. One of the benefits of a show so real and human is that it’s easy to buy into the journey Barry takes. Barry Berkman is a character who is sure of who he is and what he does, until he isn’t. The struggle of wanting to be someone new, of wondering if maybe you’re not your “best self” living your “best life”, is a relatable one. Maybe the grass IS always greener on the other side. You’ve had that moment. You’ve maybe even had the moments that follow where you live with one foot in both worlds, trying to keep what you have and get something new at the same time. If you’ve experienced this very common and human moment/emotion, you can relate to Barry even if you’ve never been a hitman or an actor or both.

If you need more of a reason to watch, consider that the show is beautifully acted and crafted. Hader shines as the titular Barry. Stephen Root’s performance as Monroe Fuches is a character so uniquely self-serving that over the course of the season you’re not sure whether you’re watching a hero, villain, or both. I’ve never seen a love interest so drastically unavailable as Sarah Goldberg’s Sally Reed. Glenn Fleshler and Anthony Carrigan play two of the best, most entertaining “villains” on TV right now. The cast performances are aided by stellar direction from Hader, Berg, Hiro Murai (Atlanta), and Maggie Carey (Silicon Valley, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). The show is as comfortable sitting in long, quiet shots as it is with firing through loud, frenetic action sequences. The episodes are tight, the pacing is a thrill ride, and some of the cliffhangers rival the Game of Thrones pilot.

HBO is going to keep making new seasons of Game of Thrones, Westworld, Veep, and Silicon Valley, but Barry is the show that got me waiting a week for TV again. 

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