Every show dreads the sophomore slump. Some try to reinvent the wheel and, in the process, throw out what made the original so delightful. Others keep with the status quo and get stale too quickly. Luckily, “Barry” doesn’t tip towards any side of that scale. It sticks its landing as it returns for season two.
Season one of HBO’s “Barry” started off as a fun satire of the acting community from the eyes of a contract killer. However, the final few episodes of the season took the titular character, as well as the whole series, to darker territory. Season two minces no words. It only gets darker from here. The show’s former identity as a comedy shines through in key moments. However, the series deliberately takes a more mature interest in PTSD and what killing does to a person. “Barry” takes some adjusting in season two. However, once acclimated, it only further justifies the Emmy nominations and wins the show received last year.
All Barry (Bill Hader) wants to do is put the past behind him. After the events of season one, he looks forward to concentrating on his acting classes and girlfriend, Sally (Sarah Goldberg). However, no one leaves their old persona so easily. Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) struggles with his place in the underground crime community now that Goran is gone. Facing fierce competition, he turns to Barry to blackmail him into favor. Also after Barry is Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), Barry’s former boss, who finds himself interrogated by the police.
These threads from Barry’s old life as a hitman are some of the least interesting moments of the show. Just because characters like Fuches and Noho Hank were introduced in season one doesn’t mean they warrant as much focus and screen time in season two. By the third episode of the season, the show uses Noho Hank to put Barry in an interesting position. However, the interworking of these criminal organizations lack the dramatic stakes of everything else happening in Barry’s life, even if it involves the most gunplay.
Strangely enough, it’s the world of acting that brings about most of Barry’s demons. Following the death of Detective Moss, acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) passes his pain and grief off to the class. Gene tasks the class with writing and performing scenes based on their own moments of trauma. This causes Barry to reexamine his time in the Army, beginning with the first time he killed someone in the name of war.
Bill Hader deserved his Emmy win for season one. However, in just the first three episodes alone, he makes a powerful case for why he should win Emmy number two. Hader unearths the pain and scars that killing has left with Barry from underneath the rubble of toxic masculinity. Both the show and he offer a powerful critique of the “rah rah” culture that glorifies war, violence, and death. The more Barry tries to turn over a new leaf, the more he is confronted with the aspects of his past he wishes to move past. He’s held back by his inability to process not only what he did beforehand, but how was praised, rewarded and allowed to make a career out of violence.
Similarly, Sally’s interpretation of the assignment yields some of the funniest and most resonant moments. At this point, Sally is repped at Gersh and has received some bit roles in D-level projects. However, this puts her on a high horse she’s more than willing to ride on within Gene Cousineau’s class. When this assignment comes up, Sally desperately wants to show off why her star is on the rise. She decides to dig deep into her divorce and abusive former relationship. While she remembers it as more of an “Erin Brockovich” type barn burner of a scene, those closest to her in the past recall it differently. Leaving an abusive relationship in any way is brave and takes courage. However, the show manages to dig into Sally’s delusions and insecurities without ever underplaying the horrors she’s had to escape from.
“Barry” understands that we all carry around our own personal traumas. However, sometimes even art can’t help us wrestle with these demons. Creators Alec Berg and Bill hander obviously have big plans for our reluctant hit man turned actor. Barry’s reconciliation doesn’t come easy. This struggle perfectly represents how the show is able to adapt and mature as it moves along. Each episode in the second season so far improves on where the last left off. While not as laugh as loud funny as any given episode in season one, it’s no less engrossing. I’m worried about where “Barry” might take me, but I’m willing to follow it wherever that may be.
“Barry” Season Two premieres on HBO on Sunday, March 31 at 10 p.m. ET.
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