Barry: Season 4 Review

Barry (Bill Hader) finds himself in prison following his capture by former acting tutor Cousineau (Henry Winkler). As old acquaintances learn of his double life, questions emerge about who was complicit in his crimes – and whether redemption is possible for a man responsible for so much bloodshed.

by Al Horner |

Streaming on: Sky Comedy / NOW

Episodes viewed: 7 of 8

An assassin walks into an acting class. Waiting for a punchline? So are fans of Barry, the Bill Hader series that put a hit out on everything audiences thought they knew about the cult American comic. Before the first season of this ruthless HBO comedy-drama, the Oklahoman was best known as the zany-faced funnyman from Saturday Night Live, who’d recently moved into movies with supporting roles in the likes of Hot RodSuperbad and Trainwreck.

Then came Barry, co-created with Alec Berg, in which Hader wrote, acted and directed his way towards a remarkable reinvention. Barry was dark. Barry was brutal. Sure, it had jokes. But its humour was blacker than the trigger of its protagonist’s pistol. Across three acclaimed seasons, the series has turned Hader from a much-liked US comedy journeyman into a beloved small-screen auteur with a surprise sombre streak. The result was the most bruising TV meditation on American violence since Breaking Bad. And it’s a story now entering its endgame.

This is the series at its tonal-tightrope best.

Season 3 concluded with Hader’s contract killer cornered by cops and finally facing consequences for his crimes. Some fans wondered whether the show’s final season would be the same. What differentiates Barry from The SopranosBreaking Bad and other prestige TV offerings about morally muddled men has been its entertainment industry backdrop: through characters like Barry’s thespian tutor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and success-hungry girlfriend Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), the series has always delighted in drawing parallels between the hollowness of Hollywood and grotesqueries of gangland Los Angeles. What would happen to the show’s sharp satire and endearing supporting players with its eponymous anti-hero behind bars?

To answer that question here would give too much away about this thrilling final chapter in Barry’s story. Rest assured, though, that this is the series at its tonal-tightrope best, delivering some of the show’s biggest-ever screams of both terror (a late-season home invasion) and laughter (an assassin duo who moonlight as terrible podcast hosts; an argument about the best Fast And Furious movie to drown out the sound of torture; the list goes on).

Hader, who directs all eight episodes of this final season, has never been more daring behind the camera, disguising one shocking mid-season twist with masterful misdirects, and there’s room to shine too for the characters in Barry’s orbit: characters like Anthony Carrigan’s scene-stealing NoHo Hank and Goldberg’s Sally are given more depth than most shows extend their protagonists as their arcs wind to a razorwire close. But this is, and always has been, Barry’s story. And like the best TV tales about morally muddled men – Tony Soprano, Don Draper and Walter White among them – the true battle of this final season isn’t whether or not they conquer their foes, but whether their demons conquer them.

The struggle for Barry’s soul that unfolds in Season 4 will be remembered as some of the best TV of 2023: nerve-shredding, hilarious and emotionally devastating to the very end.
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