Barry was 2018’s most disturbing crime drama and 2018’s funniest showbiz farce. The killcom’s eight-episode freshman season tracked a hitman’s surreal journey from a Bolivian-Chechen mob war through the playful vanities of acting class. Co-creator Bill Hader shined as the profoundly confounding title character, a soft-spoken sweetheart with a black-hole soul. TV is full of murder-god protagonists, but every sin Barry committed was a palpable shock — right up to the horrific final gunshot.
I have smart friends who swear Barry should’ve ended there. It’s a trendy notion now: the one-season wonder, the anthology, the “limited event,” or whatever. But I think the best attribute in television storytelling is longevity. So I’m glad we have a new season of Barry (debuting March 31 on HBO), especially because the season premiere opens with one of the funniest action scenes I’ve ever seen.
Barry has settled into Los Angeles life, clerking at Lululemon while he preps a play with striving girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg). Their acting coach, Gene (Henry Winkler), is despondent over his disappeared girlfriend, Janice (Paula Newsome), the detective who discovered Barry’s secret. Her death weighs on Barry’s conscience. That’s a problem for Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who has allied with Bolivian boss Cristobal (Michael Irby) but needs Barry’s help withstanding threats from a Burmese crime family as well as his own Chechen overseers.
Season 2 struggles to tie together the Breaking Bad-ly underworld ultraviolence with the inside-Hollywood comedy. Barry and Sally both face ghosts from their past. Noho Hank enters the funny-wig phase of his breakout-character career. The other acting students (including rising stars Kirby Howell-Baptiste and D’Arcy Carden) get more screen time without more dimension. “Gene tries to reconnect with his son” is the kind of subplot that showcases Winkler’s Emmy-winning role — and feels immediately unnecessary. Were my friends right? Should Barry have ended already?
I refuse to believe that! Shut up, you smart idiots! Season 2 remains tricky TV, juggling out-loud laughs with raw human embarrassment and an expanding universe of SoCal skulduggery. I enjoy Carrigan’s good humor and love how Goldberg portrays Sally’s narcissistic ambition with an unblinking lack of vanity. Ace small-screen director Hiro Murai (acclaimed for his transcendent work on FX’s Atlanta) helms the first two episodes with absurdist style. Stephen Root’s Fuches returns, more flop-sweaty than ever. Flashbacks to Barry’s Afghanistan days lead Hader toward freakier corners of his psycho’s psyche. “Am I evil?” Barry asks. The answer is obvious, and it’s not no. Our hero’s damned himself, and the results are damned funny. B+
More TV reviews: