It’s hard to think of any TV show that has exaggerated its premise more than “Barry.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that a show billed as “a hitman starts taking acting lessons” sounded like the worst idea on the planet when the series was announced in 2016. But if there’s one thing the show has conclusively proven ( although he probably should have known earlier), is that you should never bet against Bill Hader.
Hader’s “Barry,” which he co-created with “Seinfeld” and “Silicon Valley” veteran Alec Berg, is more than just the first major television role for a “Saturday Night Live” legend. It was a four-season launch for one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. And it happened alongside a late Henry Winkler renaissance; yet another Stephen Root knockout; and breakout performances by Anthony Carrigan and Sarah Golberg.
From its very first episode, “Barry” established an inimitable style that fused heartbreaking sadness with contemporary absurdism and meticulously measured doses of whimsy. Hader’s steady directorial hands and deep interest in each individual character’s humanity allowed the show to shift focus from personality clashes between the acting classes to the international drug wars without ever losing its distinctive branding. of magic.
Throughout his triumphant run, “Barry” has been many things. It was a dark comedy about the inevitable alienation that comes with living in Los Angeles. It was a drug drama with really fascinating storylines about illicit dealings between the most nefarious actors in Chechnya and Bolivia. It was an action thriller with jaw-dropping performances at times. And when they really want to fuck our hearts out, it was a Greek tragedy about how our past traumas sometimes turn us into someone — or something — wholly irredeemable.
In a sense, “Barry” is like a spaceship (“Fly like Bugs Bunny in…”) made of unknown parts that you could never hope to put back together if you break it. All the weird little pieces make up such a beautiful whole that it can be hard to rank the merits of one episode over another. But try, we must.
Ahead of this Sunday’s surely devastating series finale, we’ve rounded up our top 10 episodes in terms of cinematic prowess and what they say about Barry Berkman’s emotional journey. He reads on for our picks.
With editorial contributions from Wilson Chapman, Proma Khosla, Erin Strecker and Ben Travers.
(Editor’s note: For the first season episode titles of “Barry,” the “Chapter: —” formatting from Gene Cousineau’s acting book was dropped, and subsequent episode titles were capitalized.)