What we have on our hands here is a classic Good News, Bad News situation.
The good news is that Barry is back, finally, almost three full years after the end of season two, with enough real-world events packed between the dates to make the gap feel somehow both shorter and massively longer than it was. It’s good when good shows are back. Barry is a good show. It was good in its first two seasons and, I am pleased to report, it is still really good in its upcoming third season. Maybe even better than ever. There’s always been a balancing of dark and light at play here, which can be tricky to nail, with one building and building like a balloon filling with air until the other comes along and punctures it. It appears that the show’s solution to that is “just commit fully to both.” Bold, brave, and deeply silly. I respect it.
This, however, brings us to the bad news: No one on the show is doing too great right now. Everyone has a lot going on, much of it murder-related, all thanks to two seasons of the show and its characters trying to keep the light and dark separated to whatever degree they can as long as they can, and then… I mean, just failing pretty hard at it. Worlds are colliding now, fast and hard, with those light and dark aspects along for the ride. It’s pretty impressive, honestly. I realize as I’m typing this that what I identified as bad news is actually just more good news. This is a decent problem to have.
A refresher will help, though, probably. Again, three years and various global calamities will fuzzy things up pretty good. A season two rewatch is ideal, and doable considering it is just eight 30-ish-minutes episodes, but let’s hit the highlights, quickly:
- Barry (Bill Hader) just took out most of the Burmese and Bolivian mob in a monastery shootout during a hunt for Fuches (Stephen Root), who a) had just negotiated a truce between the gangs, and b) revealed to Gene (Henry Winkler) that Barry was responsible for the death of Detective Moss, Gene’s girlfriend
- Sally (Sarah Goldberg) just delivered a career-making performance in a play she wrote about her abusive relationship, although she altered the story at the last minute, on the stage, to make herself a hero instead of a victim, facts and truth be damned
- My beloved NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) was left as the last man standing in the mob war, thanks to Barry’s monastery massacre, which the higher-ups think Hank pulled off alone
- Barry may or may not have framed Hank for Moss’s murder
It was a lot. And it explains the thing I said earlier about no one doing too great. Because of the murders. I cannot stress this last part enough.
Season three picks up pretty much in the aftermath of season two. Barry is depressed about, well, all of it, with one mentor (Fuches) betraying him and another (Gene) about to confront him about the Moss thing. It is generally not a great sign for a character when there are pre-air promotional images of him standing alone in a desert with days of stubble on his face. This is where I would direct you to the top of the screen again. I would not describe anything in that image as an inaccurate portrayal of Barry’s headspace.
What’s interesting, though, and something I’m enjoying about the third season so far, is that the show is finally showing Barry at his worst. Even when things got weird in the first two seasons, even when he shot a woman in the head for the crime of… solving the crimes he committed, Barry was mostly trying to do right. Or at least he was trying to stop doing bad, occasionally through one or more additional bad acts. (“Riiiiiiight… now.”) Now, he’s just spiraling, flailing, breaking things without knowing how to fix them, yelling at people he loves, kidnapping people he loves, still allegedly in the name of fixing things but mostly just because he never learned how to solve problems without violence. It’s not ideal.
It’s also kind of important for the show to acknowledge, this thing where Barry isn’t a great dude, no matter how likable Bill Hader is. He has trauma, sure, and there is blame on a system that failed him and a series of bozo Svengalis who manipulated him, but Barry is a dude who kills people for money and to get himself out of trouble. None of this is going to end well for him. It can’t. It shouldn’t. This is the ride we’ve signed up for, whether we realized it at the time or not.
(That said, if anything bad happens to NoHo Hank, I will not get out of bed for a week. Yes, I know he is a monster, too, technically. I know he has ordered killings and profited off crime and the suffering of others. I’m aware I’m not being completely consistent here. I do not care. I love him very much.)
But also, and I cannot stress this enough, it’s all still very, very funny. Borderline goofy in parts. There’s a bit in the second episode involving Henry Winkler and dogs that made me full-on shout-laugh at my computer with my headphones in, to the degree someone asked if I was okay. NoHo Hank is back and teaming up with Cristobal in more ways than one and I can’t wait for you to see what he is up to. D’Arcy Carden pops up every once in a while to steal scenes so flawlessly that you could consider it a heist. The show is pulling off one of the cooler high-wire acts on television with this tone-hopping. Please do not take it for granted.
So this is where we are. For now. Barry’s past is chasing him, always, and he’s not going to be able to lose it. Most of what he’s doing is making it all worse, really. But that’s what makes Barry such a special show. You should not be able to have this much fun watching Bill Hader ruin his life and terrorize the people who try to help him. It’s a dark show, and it gets even darker in the early parts of this new season. And yet, again, the shout-laughing. It’s… cool. It’s cool. That is maybe not the most professional or articulate way to end a review of one of the best shows on television, but I stand by it. It’s cool that the show is taking chances. It’s cool that the show isn’t afraid to tell you who the characters really are. It’s cool that there’s a show on television in 2022 that stars both Henry Winkler and Stephen Root. It’s all just really, really cool. We are blessed to have this show back in our lives, even if things get a little weird.
The third season of Barry debuts on HBO on Sunday, April 24