After almost three years away, Bill Hader’s Barry has finally returned to us. With such a long break in between seasons, and so much having happened in the world around us during that time, I wondered if I would still connect to a show I had previously so adored and recommended feverishly. Truth be told, I hardly remembered anything that had happened in Barry Season 2, and as we’ve seen with many other series that have returned post-COVID, time can sometimes cause a lot more rust to form on a favored title than we might like.
But I am happy to report that as of the first four episodes provided for review, Barry is a refreshing reintroduction to a very strange and wonderfully engrossing story. To start, Barry Berkman (Bill Hader) is now in a stable relationship with Sally (Sarah Goldberg), but has lost a sense of himself and his purpose. His appearance is sloppy; he’s depressed, adrift. In the wake of the monastery massacre, he’s no longer in league with NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan). And after Fuches (Stephen Root) revealed the truth about Janice’s murder to Barry’s mentor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) to end Season 2, well, he’s lost both of them as well.
All of those people around Barry, though, are thriving on their own. Sally is the showrunner of a new TV series she’s also starring in, based on her life; Hank has a new love interest, and his remaining goons are enjoying their time under his leadership. Gene has repaired things with his son, and even Fuches is—in his words—“a natural at everything goat.”
But life in Barry’s orbit ultimately means that no one is safe, and given the long list of “do not reveals” provided by HBO, I can’t go into further detail on that front. What I can say is that most of these surprises take place in the first episode, an incredible promise the series makes that it’s not going to just sit back and rely on the tension it built at the end of Season 2 to drive the narrative and drag things out. Barry is thrown back into the fray immediately, and there are consequences and new decisions that are immediately put into play. After sitting through so many poorly paced TV shows that wallow close to the hour mark or go over it just to make you stare at the screen longer in service of metrics, it is exceptionally rewarding to see a show that goes all-in for half an hour in a way that mixes action, emotional resonance, horror, and humor in such a satisfying way. Which is, of course, what Barry has been doing all along.
Something the show also makes clear at the start of Season 3 is that Barry Berkman is not a hero. He’s a deeply troubled man, or as he is asked early in the first episode, “are you a psycho?” Maybe. He’s definitely a cold-blooded killer, and one particularly gruesome act to kick off the new set of episodes is a stark reminder of that. The violence that he has tried to keep separate from his other life, the one that loves acting and that wants to be normal, is seeping in more than ever. And in one particularly stinging subplot, we see how his simmering rage triggers a response from Sally that shows how Barry is unintentionally pushing her back into a cycle of abuse.
In this way, Barry continues to impress in how it weaves so many different themes and tones into an exceptional TV tapestry, managing to comment on serious topics alongside absurdist hijinks. (It also incisively understands the TV industry and portrays its realities in stark rather than satirical terms.) There is a silliness to Barry, but also a soul—and a lot of darkness. Even when the show reaches unbelievable narrative heights, there is an intimacy that continues to ground it. It’s up close, personal. It relishes in making us uncomfortable, and then backs off just enough for us to take a deep breath before the next thrillingly unpredictable round.
In addition to second rounds, Barry Season 3 is all about second chances. There are various seeds of revenge being planted, but also the powerful idea that forgiveness must be earned. Where Barry or Barry goes next is an exciting, if trepidatious mystery. But both the man and the show are earning every step.
Barry Season 3 premieres Sunday, April 24th on HBO, and is streaming on HBO Max.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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