Roush Review: ‘Barry’ Slays With Its Uncanny Blend of Humor and Suspense

Barry Season 3 Bill Hader
Merrick Morton/HBO

Turns out there’s a business even more brutal than the hit-man trade. Welcome to Hollywood, where fates and dreams can be crushed because, as a streaming executive puts it, “The algorithm felt it wasn’t hitting the right taste clusters.”

I’ll tell you what sends my taste cluster (whatever that may be) off the chart: HBO‘s Barry, a thrilling concoction of pitch-black humor and nail-biting suspense. Now in its long-awaited third season, full of shocking twists with unexpected emotional impact, the series is grounded in the peculiar journey of Barry Berkman (two-time Emmy winner Bill Hader), a Marine sniper turned assassin who just wants to act.

Barry Season 3 Bill Hader

(Credit: HBO)

His greatest role on the explosive road to redemption may be convincing those who know him best — including his appalled acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler doing career-high work), now aware that his prize student is responsible for the death of his beloved Det. Janice Moss — that this “human pressure cooker” is at heart a decent guy. Leave it to a TV casting agent to see Barry’s essence: “I like your intensity. You kind of have a not-present Joaquin Phoenix thing.” Hey, whatever works. One thing’s for sure: His pain is palpable, his grief and guilt inescapable.

Beyond the action set pieces and spot-on show-biz satire, what’s most satisfying about the new season (which we’ve waited nearly three years to see) is that by the fluke of circumstance, Barry has somehow had a positive effect on those whose lives he hasn’t either snuffed out or totally ruined, although the more they are made aware of his true self, the more creeped out they (and we) are. After all, Barry did help bring Gene, whose own toxic behavior ruined his acting career, back into the life of his estranged son, and a gullible industry can’t help but applaud the sentimental story of how Gene turned this sad soldier’s life around with the gift of acting. For Sally (Sarah Goldberg), Barry’s girlfriend from acting class, being with him has given her the confidence to go public with her backstory of spousal abuse and turn it into a TV series.

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Even his current nemesis, Monroe Fuches (the great Stephen Root), the man who made Barry a killer for hire and ratted on him to Gene (among other vengeful souls), finds a measure of paradise while in exile. But it’s the upbeat Chechen gangster, Noho Hank (the remarkable Anthony Carrigan), who’d rather be secretly snuggling with his forbidden Bolivian Mafia boyfriend (Michael Irby), who understands Barry the best. “You’re trying to be two different guys at once, and that is simply unsustainable.”

This tightrope act of the anti-hero who commands our sympathy, even as we loathe his actions and fear for his survival, has rarely been done better. Hader, believably shifting moods from catatonic to manic, makes Barry someone to fear and also, despite ourselves, to cheer. He belongs in the pantheon with Walter White and Dexter Morgan. Simply put, Barry slays me.

Barry, Season Premiere, Sunday, April 24, 10/9c, HBO