‘Barry’ is the Best Show on Television Right Now

My apologies for taking an irregular amount of time away from writing. Let’s get to it.

Listen, I love Game of Thrones. I love it. It deserves all the hype it has gathered over the years and deaths. But before Game of Thrones justifiably takes over all our lives for a good month and a half, I’d like to give love and praise to Barry, the best show on television right now. Bill Hader’s dark comedy about a hitman (Barry, played by Hader) who decides to go into acting is currently in its second season and continues to just get better with each episode. Season 1 of Barry was the best television I watched last year, not since Eastbound & Down had I seen a show combine high caliber humor with devastating dramatic turns and character depth. I’d be laughing my ass off one second and have my gut wrenching the next in any given scene. It’s clear even just 2 episodes into season 2 that Barry will once again be the best television I watch this year. I smell a repeat performance.

Noho Hank (who might be my favorite character on TV right now) illustrates how Barry can transition from immensely funny to crushingly dark with ease in the season 2 premiere “The Show Must Go On, Probably?”, Hank owning 3 of the funniest moments of the episode as well as the darkest one. Consider how hard I was laughing at Hank showing up in disguise at Barry’s Lulu Lemon job, wearing a terrible blond whig and dressed like he plays polo on the weekends. He asks if the pair of short shorts he’s holding come in medium. Barry, frustrated at Hank’s arrival, informs him they are women’s shorts. Hank just replies with “Oh. Shit.” in a way that just sent me. Hank keeps me laughing in every scene he’s in, like his reaction to Esther stabbing her hand to display power or his montage of his bromance with Cristobal. But man, at the end of the episode….fellas, I haven’t been stressed out like that by a show in a minute. After Barry tells him to fuck off at his job and that he won’t do a hit for him, Hank shows back up at Barry’s acting class without an ounce of the cheeriness we’re used to from him. He terrifyingly yet calmly informs Barry that he has offended him, and that he’s not asking Barry to do this hit, he’s telling him otherwise he will have everyone in that acting class killed. Bill Hader and Henry Winkler rightly won emmys for their season 1 performances, and should continue to do so. But let’s get Anthony Carrigan in the best supporting category for his creation of Noho Hank, the most cheerful chechen gangster. He flips the switch on Hank in ways I could have never predicted, creating one of the most terrifying and uncomfortable scenes and personifying the balancing act of tone that Barry is.

I could talk forever about how great I think Bill Hader is. I return to his SNL sketches and Dateline impersonations often. Many will point to The Skeleton Twins as proof of his range, which they’re not wrong, he is great in it, but it’s not the only indication of his talent. His performance in the 2-part season 2 finale of Documentary Now! Is one of the single greatest feats of acting I’ve ever seen. Fred Armisen is always playing a Fred Armisen character in that show, but Bill Hader just straight up becomes his characters in this maniacal way. His performance as Barry is this subdued, layered masterclass of information. Just watch it, words can’t prepare you, I was losing it. He tells you everything you need to know by how much he guards his emotions. Consider the look(s) that rolls across his in the most recent episode, “The Power of No”, when Sally proclaims that she will never be with another violent man again. The guilt that overtakes Barry that he tries to push away is just phenomenal, and Hader communicates it all in a single look. I don’t know how he does it.

There’s a sequence in the season 2 premiere where he tells the story of his first kill in the army and Gene Cousineau, in a moment of inspiration, has other classmates act it out, and they eventually turn it into their own tale. We cut between what actually happened and where the classmates interpret the tale to. Barry shoots and kills two figures in the middle eastern mountains with his sniper rifle, and the classmates run away with the story by acting like Barry was overcome with remorse and the pressures of his commanders. But that’s not what happened. Barry shot them without orders, without knowing if they were a threat or not, and his unit celebrated him and his prowess with the rifle. Gene asks Barry if what the classmates did is what happened. Barry takes a moment, lies and confirms it was. Barry wants to rewrite his past and rewrite his story. That is the core of his character, struggling to change against his past decisions and acts as well as his worst impulses.

Not since Breaking Bad have I been so stressed out about a show and its characters. Not since Breaking Bad have I followed a character into a situation where I honestly don’t know how they’re going to get out the corner they’re backed into, and also make me not sure if they deserve to make it out. We have six more episodes of this season, and I can’t wait to see where Hader takes us.

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