Ask Matt: ‘Barry’ Got Serious This Year

Barry, Season 3 - Bill Hader

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and some Fridays.

Can Barry Even Be Classified a Comedy?

Question: I am still stoked with not only the season finale but the entire recently concluded season of Barry on HBO. My question is: How can Barry now be categorized as a comedy or even a dramedy for that matter, as this season was by far more drama than comedy? But since half-hour shows are thought of in this matter, how exactly do we classify this? Certainly, Mr. Cousineau’s hoodwinking of Barry showed Barry just what a good acting job can result in — namely his capture, which may have earned Henry Winkler at least another nomination for supporting actor. Finally, what is it with HBO’s obsession with making most of their comedy seasons only eight episodes? You just get this back and it is gone already. — JV

Matt Roush: So much about the process of Emmy nominations is imperfect — as I’m sure we’ll be reminded again this week when the nominations are announced Tuesday (and I expect I’ll hear plenty about it in my mailbag afterward) — and this includes classification of programs that can’t easily be pigeonholed by genre. There was humor in this season of Barry, especially in the arena of show-biz satire, particularly with Sally’s misadventures in show-running and the peculiar algorithms of streaming — though even that got awfully bleak by the end. If Barry is still a comedy or, I suppose, dark-side-of-humanity comedy, it’s obviously pushing the definition to extremes, and having it compete alongside much lighter comedy fare just because it’s a half-hour series doesn’t entirely make sense. But that’s the Emmys for you, and I would be surprised if any of the other awards groups would reclassify the show at this point. As for the short run of episodes, I’m assuming that’s a creative (though possibly also economic) choice. This was a very tight season, and given that Bill Hader is both star and auteur, this could be a case of stressing quality over quantity, and I’m all for that.

Comment: I have enjoyed the previous seasons of Barry. But this season, maybe due to my feeling a little more fragile about all the real-world events over the past few years, it seems this show has become off-putting, much darker, and with fewer laughs. (Though of course there are still laughs to be had.) Bill Hader has said he doesn’t necessarily view the show as a comedy, but as a story he is developing and telling, and he’s a very talented guy. His filmmaking skill in those episodes he’s directed is impressive. And Sarah Goldberg and Henry Winkler are excellent. But, wow, after that finale, I don’t know that I want to go back for more. What are your thoughts on this season of Barry? — ML

Matt Roush: In terms of execution, this was another amazing season of Barry, from acting to directing to writing, with surprising plotting through all of the macabre twists. But was it escapist entertainment? Anything but. This was an emotionally harrowing and grueling season, to be sure — but looking at the series as a whole, a necessary one, given Barry’s past deeds and the world he and the other criminal elements are inhabiting. I can’t imagine not returning next season to see where this goes next, but I’m also going to prepare myself for a rough ride. And, like most great things on TV, not for everybody.

Rising But Not Streaming-Yet

Question: Where can cord-cutters stream the new season of All Rise? Someone said Hulu, but it’s only showing Seasons 1 and 2 right now. Does OWN offer its own streaming platform? Or will Hulu eventually air the new seasons? — Laurel

Matt Roush: You’ll have to be patient. While the new season is in first-run on OWN, it won’t be available to stream. (Cable subscribers with OWN can view All Rise on the OWN app and On Demand.) OWN has its own hub on Hulu, and given that the CBS seasons of All Rise are already available on the streamer, it seems likely that the new episodes will be available there after the current season wraps.

Remember the Good Old (Suspenseful) Days?

Question: When do you think the Fox network will return to broadcasting dramas like 24, Prison Break, Sleepy Hollow, and the like instead of cooking, singing and dance, and game shows? — Russell

Matt Roush: All of the shows you reference are in Fox’s rear-view mirror, from a past in which the network was aligned with the Fox studio (now part of the Disney empire, leaving the Fox network without a legacy in-house supplier). Which isn’t to say these won’t someday be revived, in some cases revived again (though don’t count on Sleepy Hollow), but your real complaint is in reaction to the sad state of summer programming on Fox (and other broadcast networks). Game shows have pretty much taken over Fox and ABC (which is really scraping the bottom with shows like Generation Gap and The Final Straw), but new episodes of scripted shows will be back in the fall. And Fox has a few prospects slotted for midseason which sound promising: an anthology crime drama, Accused, and a missing-persons thriller, Alert. Neither may reach the suspenseful heights of 24, but we can always hope.

The Summer Doldrums

Question: What’s with all the game shows? I know they are much cheaper than a scripted series, but enough is enough. Not one new scripted show this summer on the major networks. No wonder people are moving away from the major broadcast networks. There’s so much more variety with streaming sites. — Alan R

Matt Roush: And here we have the self-fulfilling prophecy of diminishing returns. In recent years, any attempt by the networks to launch a scripted summer series, comedy, or drama, has been met mostly with a shrug and disastrous ratings. Fox had originally planned to return its moderately successful reboot of Fantasy Island this summer, but moved it to midseason instead, ensuring there would be nothing but forgettable game shows and reality contests to fill the void between seasons. I’m not against a good game show — I’m glad to have The $100,000 Pyramid back, for instance — but a constant flow of these shows is dispiriting and no doubt driving more and more viewers to streaming as an alternative. Which will likely lead the companies to continue favoring their streaming platforms over the old-school networks when it comes to providing interesting programming.

Falling for Rutherford

Question: Why is such an excellent series as Rutherford Falls relegated to Peacock as a series and not on NBC network TV for the masses to behold? It is so funny and so well-acted. And it presents indigenous people as funny, empathetic, REAL! I enjoyed it so much, I have watched the two seasons twice already and plan on watching it again. Jana Schmieding and Michael Greyeyes make the show so very watchable and enjoyable. Ed Helms is a master to recognize that even though he is the creator and star, he backed off in Season 2 to highlight the other wonderful actors. The ancillary actors/characters from the town and the “Rez” bring this very funny series to life. And let’s not forget Jesse Leigh, who is wonderfully funny as Bobbie Yang, the new mayor. These characters are real, the writing inventive and the series is worth the price of Peacock streaming. However, it is a pity more people cannot be exposed to this series because it truly is a joy to experience. — Betty B

Matt Roush: As I assemble my TV calendar from week to week, I am often struck by this dilemma, seeing shows that would work very well on network TV instead being buried amid the glut of streaming offerings. Your praise of the smart, funny and refreshingly diverse Rutherford Falls is very on point, and I feel much the same about Peacock’s hilarious Girls5Eva, from many of the folks who gave us NBC hits like 30 Rock. If that were to air weekly on NBC, I have to think it would have been a bigger hit than the dismal Mr. Mayor (from some of the same creators). The reality is that the corporate bosses (in this case, Comcast and NBCUniversal) see streaming as the future and are more inclined to put noisier content on these platforms to drive traffic and subscriptions because the ad-supported economic model of linear network TV has become so difficult — you could argue because the companies aren’t putting their best stuff on the networks anymore. What a vicious circle.

And Finally …

Question Do you think The Endgame will be picked up by another network or streaming service? I loved the show. — Berkley

Matt Roush: The eternal question. And the usual answer: Probably not. With only one short season under its belt, it’s doubtful this show (produced and distributed by NBCUniversal) would find an eager buyer elsewhere. The end game came awfully quickly for this thriller.

That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)