Nearly three long years since the season 2 finale graced viewers’ screens, HBO’s black comedy Barry finally returns this Sunday – and it’s darker (and funnier) than ever. In the wake of the season 2’s cliffhanger, which revealed that Barry’s acting teacher Mr. Cousineau finally found out the truth about Barry, season 3 picks up with a mountain of chaos and uncertainty to sort through – and it doesn’t shy away from getting down and dirty when it needs to. Darker, funnier, and sharper than ever, season 3 of Barry is perhaps the show’s strongest outing yet – proving that even with three years off the air, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s series is still one of the best shows on television.
Season 3 follows Barry (Bill Hader) still living with his girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) as she prepares for the premiere of her own show, in which she starred, directed, and wrote. As Sally grapples with her newfound fame and success, Barry is reeling from the realization that Mr. Cousineau now knows his secret – and that he’s nowhere near ready to forgive the murder of his lover. As his relationship struggles and his closest confidant – Mr. Cousineau – has turned his back on him, Barry begins to spiral (yet again) and delves deeper into depression and uncertainty, all while everyone from Fuches to NoHo Hank has a reason to want him out of the picture.
While Barry has always been a series that thrives most when walking the line between comedy and drama, season three has no qualms about diving headfirst into the dark underbelly of Barry’s life, and the messy emotions that come with it. The series’ ideas about mental health (particularly post traumatic stress, depression, and emotional abuse) are more poignant than ever here, especially because the first few episodes of the season hit lighter on the comedy, forcing the viewer to sit and squirm while watching Barry’s life crumble around him.
At times it’s almost unsettling to watch – and that’s thanks in massive part to Bill Hader, who continues to deliver one of the most impressively versatile performances on television. Though Barry isn’t portrayed as a flat-out abuser this season, he does come dangerously close in some of his more tense scenes with Sally (Goldberg), and the unsettling dive into Barry’s darker side simply would not work without Hader’s performance. There’s a perpetually glazed-over look to Hader’s gaze as Barry floats through life, depressed, and when he finally does snap back into focus during his more dangerous moments, he cuts a genuinely frightening figure.
The darkness and intensity of the first few episodes – particularly with regard to Barry’s romance with Sally and strained relationship with Cousineau – make it all the more baffling how the show was then able to manage to turn around and deliver some of its funniest moments yet – particularly in episodes five and six. Some of the comedic beats in season three border on surrealism – a disorientingly hilarious approach to humor that works best in conjunction with some surprise grade-A guest stars.
Season three also ups the ante when it comes to stunts and action sequences – though 2×08’s monastery shootout was certainly impressive, and the entirety of 2×05 was practically a battle royale, Barry still manages to find new and inventive ways to remind us that Barry is, indeed, a man who kills people for a living. Though they’re hardly present every episode, the stunt work is blockbuster-grade in a surprisingly modest setting, and endlessly impressive when incorporated into the show’s signature offbeat sense of humor.
Perhaps what season three handles best, though, is the development of characters, outside of their interactions directly with Barry. Though the series has always been most interested in exploring its titular sociopath, season three also takes the time to examine who those in his life are apart from him – particularly Sally, Cousineau, NoHo Hank, and Fuches. The entire ensemble cast has always been impressive (if underutilized outside of a comedic setting) but this season the writers clearly trust the likes of Sarah Goldberg and the offbeat Anthony Carrigan to also carry dramatic weight. Though Carrigan has always been the runaway scene-stealer, his Bosnian drug-dealing partner, Cristobal (Michael Irby), makes for a surprising key player in season three as well.
With Cristobal’s increased agency and new relationship dynamics, the ‘baddies’ are given remarkable humanity and depth, continuing to become fully-fledged players outside their roles as tertiary villains. But season three’s biggest breakout proves to be – somewhat surprisingly – Sarah Goldberg’s Sally, who finally gets the chance to go from acting class wannabe to grade-A hotshot. Though initially seeming to be played for comedy, watching Sally leech on to clippings of fame and navigate the exhausting quagmire that is the entertainment industry takes a dark, compelling turn when newcomer Katie (Elsie Fisher) questions how healthy her relationship with Barry is.
The turn, which parallels the plot of Sally’s newly minted TV show, gives Goldberg the chance to prove herself as a dramatic lead, much like the trial by fire Sally’s experiencing in the industry – though Goldberg handles it much more gracefully. Her dramatic moments are some of the show’s most compelling, at times entirely separate from Barry as a character. Though her personality borders on Skyler White (of Breaking Bad) territory, she remains compelling and sympathetic, thanks in large part to Goldberg.
Between upping the significance of the supporting cast to being willing to take risks and go darker than ever, Barry continues to remind viewers of how sharp it is. As Bill Hader brings more compelling performances each episode, Henry Winkler and Sarah Goldberg nail scene after scene, and grade-A stuntwork work in perfect harmony to create the best season of Barry yet.
Grade = A
Season 3 of Barry premieres Sunday, April 24 on HBO and HBOMax.
Photograph by Merrick Morton/HBO