When it was originally on: 2018-present
Original network: HBO
Where you can stream it now: HBO, or Hulu and Amazon w/HBO add-on
Had I seen it before: Yes! I’ve seen both seasons in full.
What IMDb says: A hit man from the Midwest moves to Los Angeles and gets caught up in the city’s theatre arts scene.
Why I picked it: Barry is arguably my favorite currently-airing television show. It’s a great response to the sort of anti-hero white dude nonsense that became so big in the decades leading up to Barry’s premiere. It’s also a show that feels like it should have more tonal issues than it does. It’s a comedy, but it’s also about murdering people. It actually explores the real consequences of being a hitman, and gives its subject matter the gravity it deserves. Yet it also can be genuinely funny when it wants to be. Barry expands the realm of what we thought a half-hour comedy could be. For that reason, it’s on The List.
What I liked: The show does a wonderful job of making Barry both likable and sympathetic while also making him a believable as an assassin. He’s antisocial. He seems depressed and dissatisfied with his life. He’s the sort of cold and distant figure one might expect a hitman to be. And yet. . . we still like him.
For one, the show does a good job of establishing that Barry typically only murders bad guys. Maybe it’s other murders or dudes involved in drug trafficking. But when asked to kill Ryan, he’s conflicted. He can’t bring himself to murder someone he’s actually spent time with who treated him so nicely. Yet at the end of the episode, we see Barry kick into murder mode and kill someone out of self defense with no hesitation. He then casually strolls into a diner like it’s nothing. This ruthlessness towards bad guys but turmoil towards killing good guys allows Barry to be intimidating and sympathetic at the same time.
I also love how much Henry Winkler is able to do with the Gene character despite relatively little screentime. In his first scene, we see him bully Sally to get her fired up so she can deliver a more convincing performance in her scene. The pilot also cleverly uses conversations between Barry and other actors in the class to continue characterizing Gene as well as the ones who are actually talking. By the time this pilot culminates in Barry’s monologue to Gene, we understand how much Gene and his opinions mean to people desperate people like Barry.
I also think this pilot is a great example of how it’s far more effective to do a quality-over-quantity approach towards jokes. Unlike a typical network sitcom, Barry isn’t TRYING to make me laugh every 30 seconds. And while I might typically complain that this comedy isn’t funny enough, I’m not going to here because the scenes that ARE supposed to be funny stick their landing. I love watching the Czech guy yell at Noho Hank about showing illicit footage of his wife. I love watching Ryan try to play some scene with a dreadlock wig. One of the important lessons of Barry is that it’s okay to only tell 4-5 jokes if all the jokes are funny. If you tell 20+ jokes but only 4-5 are funny, that reads as not funny.
What I didn’t like: There’s really not much. I freakin’ love this show.