On the suggestion of my brother Vincent, on our first podcast episode, I finally binged Barry. Luckily I was on a flight alone and they had the first 5 episodes streaming on the little tv in my seat. Normally on planes I like to first check what Mark Ruffalo movies they have available (it’s usually Spotlight, Zodiac and a rom-com like Rumor Has It…) and then I see what tv shows are there that I’ve been meaning to get to, but need the focus and lack of other options to really get into. Look, there’s a lot of tv available right now and the new shows are like the waves crashing on Breezy Point, they just keep coming. So even a show like Barry which was just nominated for a slew of Emmy’s, Vincen’t recommendation, and my own interest in the show wasn’t enough for me to buckle down and watch the sucker. We are really living in the golden age of entertainment folks, there’s just too much to enjoy.
In this new “binge-watching” environment it also becomes harders to stay on top of the weekly episode recaps which Alan Sepinwall just discussed in this article about the hey day of the weekly recap (see: Sopranos, Mad Men and the like). One thing I’ll look forward to Barry in season 2 is the chance to weekly recap it, since it will be released in a traditional (non-streaming) format: one episode a week.
Even still, I felt compelled to at least make a note of my thoughts on Barry who’s first season will be described by many tv critics and bloggers as “a near perfect season”. Several critics have already commented that Barry might be too perfect to even have a second season, especially in this Sophomoric slump of a year (see: Westworld, Luke Cage and Handmaiden’s Tale). Let’s face it, television has changed, and we’ve changed. Viewers like the “limited series” like because it’s less of a commitment for us. I don’t know if I want 300+ episodes of the latest drama, it seems like too much! ER is available on Hulu if you’re looking for 300+ episodes of a solid drama to dig into. For me, I’m stuck somwhere between “bright shiny object syndrome” and wanting to finish the things I start. I even stuck with New Girl all the way till the end, and it had an atrocious season and a half in the middle there, where the storylines revolved around cats and Nick having a girlfriend way too hot for him (or any man besides Brian Austen Green).
Barry tells a story we’ve seen before, the man doing bad things who wants to stop. In Barry’s case in order to stop he must go deeper in the crevasse and hope he will emerge, and alive. Barry is played by Bill Hader, who most of us know for being Stefan on SNL. He has the ability to kick ass one in a way I hadn’t envisoned for him before. When he takes out a gun he is truly frightening. He stumbles upon acting class while trying to finish off a guy who’s only crime is sleeping with the wrong woman. Barry meets Sally, watches her dance in slow-motion and finally finds the purpose he’s been looking for since returning from Iraq. His partner, Fuches, played by Stephen Root keeps mentioning that Barry has a purpose now, killing bad guys. But, for Barry it doesn’t fit. Sure he’s good at it, which he will show us all throughout the season, right to the bitter end, but is this a way to make a life? Finally he decides, he’d rather dress in J. Crew and go to acting class instead.
His acting teacher Gene seems to be a washed up “If you can’t do, teach” kind of actor. He’s still going in for one-line auditions in one heart breaking scene, where you can see just un-artistic the pursuit of being an actor can be. In casting Henry Winkler, Bill Hader certainly has to keep up with him and the acting rises to the occassion, which is why they are both nominated for Emmys this year. Their world is centered around the business of becoming an actor and some of it is downright ridiculous to any of us outside of LA. Juxtaposed with his secret life as a hitman, it works on a new level. The show asks, “What is acting really?” Is it craft laced with imagination, or just being yourself on stage in horrible circumstances? This is the challenge Barry is up against.
The romantic storyline throughout the season is between Sally, played by Sarah Goldberg, and Barry. Sally is a typical actress stereo type, she has a closet full of costumes including a nehru jacket and a nurse’s habit, she has her own #metoo moment, and plays a princess at kid’s birthday parties to survive. She’s a mediocre actress from what we can see, until Barry enter’s the picture. When they are on stage together, Sally blossoms, first when Barry screw’s up her warm up in episode 1, and then again on stage doing Shakespeare. His authenticity on stage leads her somewhere great, so naturally she’s drawn to him both in romance and in art. She doesn’t realize that his craft is non-existent and instead he’s just living his real life on that stage. But make no mistake, he’s a great liar, just not an actor, yet. Perhaps, that’s for season 2?
The season really shines when Barry’s two worlds collide, especially in episode 8. I’m not going to say more than that, lest I spoil it for you. Suffice to say, it doesn’t seem like anyone is getting a happy ending. But we hope that they might. Bill Hader’s a good guy doing bad things, and we are still rooting for him, even though we know he’s a goner after he has to kill someone who’s only wrong-doing is accepting Barry’s friend request on Facebook, but poses a threat. Creators Bill Hader and Alec Berg will have my full attention when season 2 airs next year. Though I predict this is a three season show at most, due to the subject matter and our own lack of attention span. Couldn’t you argue that Sopranos, Downton Abbey and Silicon Valley (of which Alec Berg is also a creator) would have been fine with seasons 1-3? I could.
Let’s all say it together “we want quality, not quantity!” Barry delivers on the first for sure, and I’ll be cheering Hader and Winkler on when the Emmys air later this summer.