HBO’s Barry is a Masterclass in Good TV

(Rotten Tomatoes)

(Rotten Tomatoes)

*This article contains spoilers for Barry, a show that may not be suitable for younger viewers*


It has been described as the greatest television show of all time. With moments of humor among the darkness of the dramatic plot, it portrays an amazing balance between comedy and drama. The twists and turns leave viewers with their jaws on the floor, and its popularity has grown immensely since its debut, growing a cult following. What show am I describing? Breaking Bad. In the conversation of dramatic television, Breaking Bad is always brought up as the gold standard of how to craft a story. And I completely agree; Breaking Bad is a fantastic show that deserves all of the praise it gets. However, there is another TV show that also accomplishes what Breaking Bad did, yet does not get as much recognition: Barry on HBO.

To give a brief overview, Barry tells the story of Barry Berkman, a veteran who has been working as a hitman since he left the military. When he’s given an assignment to follow a target who lives in Los Angeles, it leads him to an acting class where he discovers a passion for the performing arts, despite having no experience or talent. On paper, that sounds pretty ridiculous. But Barry is genuinely one of the most captivating shows I have ever seen. 

 For starters, the show was co-created, co-written, and stars Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader. Since his time on SNL, Hader has mainly appeared in comedic roles, most notably as Aaron in Trainwreck, Willy in The To Do List, Dave in Hot Rod, and even Fear in Pixar’s Inside Out. So it makes sense that many viewers were conflicted about Bill undertaking such a complex and dramatic role, despite his performances in indie dramas such as The Skeleton Twins and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which are less well known than his other work. Because Barry is technically a dark comedy, it successfully communicates Bill’s dramatic acting range while still giving him the opportunity for comedic moments, leaving viewers with the masterpiece that is Barry. 


The Perfect Balance of Comedy, Drama and Suspense: 


     Barry successfully masters a dramatic, suspenseful, and emotional tone, but it also manages to leave viewers on the floor laughing. In my opinion, this is a balance that many other dark comedies fail to capture. (The Netflix show Insatiable immediately comes to mind as a failed attempt at a dark comedy) If you aren’t familiar with what a dark comedy is, it is a comedy that involves elements of morbid satire. For example, Hader’s character joining an acting class as a hitman is objectively funny, because viewers wouldn’t expect a murderer to find a passion for the arts. Aside from Hader, the cast is adorned with other comedic actors such as Happy Days star Henry Winkler, Sara Goldberg, and Anthony Carrigan. Anthony Carrigan in particular comes to mind when thinking about the comedic moments from the show, with his character Noho Hank being a perky and bubbly Czechian mafia boss. Because the cast is filled with hilarious actors, many of the funniest moments of the show were improv that was kept in the final cut. However, this is not to take away from the dramatic moments of the show, because Barry definitely knows when to stop the humor for more heartfelt or serious scenes. 


   An Analysis:


      In a 2018 interview with Vulture, Bill Hader talks about the thought process in creating Barry, saying, “So Alec [the co-creator of Barry] and I went to a diner, and then talked once a week for months about an idea for a show. One day I proposed, “‘What if I played a hitman?”’ Alec went, ‘“Ooh.”’ And then goes, ‘“I hate the hit-man concept. That whole “‘guy-with-the-skinny-tie-and-two-guns thing.”’ But I said, ‘“No, more like a guy wrestling with what he’s doing.”’ In the same 2018 Vulture interview, co-creator Alec Berg says in regards to Hader, “We both thought the idea of somebody who was incredibly naturally gifted at something that they didn’t love doing was an interesting internal struggle, the struggle of like, ‘Oh, well he should be a killer because he is great at it, but it’s eating him up.’” 

Barry being centered around someone who’s incredibly skilled at killing yet feels it is morally wrong, really gets viewers thinking: what defines you as a good or bad person? The show doesn’t outwardly try to convince viewers that Barry Berkaman is good or bad; It’s very subjective, leaving that question up to the viewer. In Barry’s case, he has murdered countless people but wants to turn his life around and start being a better person. He openly questions whether that’s possible for him, asking different characters in multiple seasons whether they think he’s a good person or not. Because he doesn’t believe it himself, he often looks for that validation from the people in his life, all of whom are unaware of his job as a hitman. 

Barry also does a good job of explaining how a person can get to a place where they do evil things without excusing them. Barry’s character felt directionless after leaving the military, and began searching for his purpose. An old family friend, Monroe Fuches, comes along and tells him to use what he’s skilled in to find direction. Fuches takes in this broken person and shows him that he can make a living doing what he’s good at, which ultimately traps him in a violent and empty career. Once he starts killing, Barry feels as if he can’t stop, especially when more people begin discovering his secret. It isn’t until he discovers acting that Barry believes he’s found a way out of killing. His mentality is that if he can leave killing behind and start a career as an actor, then he will no longer feel like a bad person. But whenever someone new finds out about his secret, he feels he has no choice but to kill them in order to truly start over. At the end of season one, Barry kills Detective Moss as she begins digging into his past, despite his vow to never kill again. The final line of the season is, “starting now,” which signifies his belief that with Moss out of the way, now he can finally start over. This is a pattern that follows him throughout the series, which pulls him deeper into a life of violence and crime. However, simply starting over doesn’t erase everything he’s already done, leaving viewers to decide whether or not to root for him as a deeply flawed protagonist. Barry has already had three seasons (which are all available on Hulu and HBO Max) and has a fourth season premiering on April 16th. Barry is definitely a show I recommend checking out if you haven’t already, however I would like to reiterate that it is not suitable for younger viewers, as it portrays violence and some mature themes.


By Chloe Stefani ’24, Fashion Editor