‘Barry’ Season 3 Takes Aim With a Deadlier and Funnier Bill Hader

HBO’s “Barry” gets so bleak on the emotional side in its third season that it’s almost a miracle it’s actually brilliantly funny. Shows like this remind us why tragedy and comedy are siblings. Hitmen are not necessarily what comes to mind when we think of something laugh-inducing. Indeed, much of the killing in “Barry” can be unnerving. But that’s not the point. Bill Hader as Barry is an exaggerated persona who channels how it feels to be stuck, finding no passion and getting the hint that your life drastically needs to change. It gets even worse when you’re stuck in a relationship clearly headed for disaster. 

As the season opens, Barry is in a state of limbo. No longer working for his old handler, Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), the hitman is now looking for new clients on Craigslist and the dark web. Business is so bad the opening scene of the new season finds Barry frustrated when a client decides he doesn’t want to kill the man who slept with his wife after all. Having lost hope in acting, he sits at home playing Xbox. Meanwhile girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) appears poised for success while acting and showrunning her own series, “Joplin,” on the BanShe streaming platform. When it comes to the other figures in Barry’s life, former friend and gangster NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is enraged to discover he’s been framed for the murder of detective Janice Woods last season. Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), Woods’ widower and Barry’s former acting teacher, is not convinced and decides he should just seek revenge on his own. 

With Hader still producing and directing, along with co-creator Alec Berg, “Barry” is now firmly in the ranks of shows like “BoJack Horseman,” which deal with the darker side of living in a way that isn’t necessarily depressing. A series like this is not “plotted” in compartments. Even as developments take place with Hank and the Chechen mob, or Sally and her career, the mood of the series is that we’re spending time with Barry as his life stalls. We’re in his mental state as he converses with people and imagines putting a bullet through their forehead (even Sally). He just wants to dump this life and find something true. Everyone in this show embarks on journeys more personal than thriller fodder. Hank wants to move to Santa Fe with his boyfriend, Bolivian mobster Cristobal (Michael Irby) and buy a house there. But this will prove difficult as underworld commitments keep pulling him back. 

The depth of individual moments still leaves room for good laughs. Barry begs Hank for work, but an irate Hank reveals that he knows Barry has framed him. He wants to live a freer life now and mistakenly says, “like the guy says in ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ get rich or die trying,” which film buffs will howl at. Then there’s the way “Barry” is also a commentary on the entertainment industry itself. Now that Sally has her own show, the ego is getting puffed and she can mean to assistants, telling one to not talk during a meeting and use the time to prepare a snack for her instead. While “Joplin” is based on Sally’s memories of an abusive marriage, studio chiefs cynically judge the footage and later drop some shattering news after the premiere, giving Sally a hard lesson in how streaming numbers work. Hank’s chances at true love are also threatened when Cristobal’s boss flies in and announces he has decided to wipe out the Chechens, which would mean whacking Hank.

Staying true to the title, these storylines still get overshadowed by Barry’s existential crisis. He tries to do good by attempting to help Gene, as a way to make amends for killing the love of his life. When Sally refuses to give Gene a role in her show Barry is so desperate, he screams at her in a hair-raising way that reveals the brutal killer inside, and Hader’s excellent range. This season perfectly captures the mindset of being trapped in that zone between static existence and transition. Barry can’t sleep and hallucinates. He has burned bridges and sees no definitive future on the horizon for himself. There is potential for relief when he finally lands an acting gig and takes advantage to try and get Gene a part in the same show. We almost forget this is an assassin, until those unnerving moments that remind us what his work entails. He’s the kind of guy who warns Gene that if he doesn’t enjoy what comes with a second chance in life, he might just kill his family.

Are we meant to sympathize with Barry? The smart challenge of such a character is that we find ourselves wanting to. He’s down on his luck in unforgiving Los Angeles. His girlfriend is flaunting her own success while blindly walking into certain traps. “Barry” has the kind of character whose lifestyle we may not approve of, but whose flaws and self-made entrapments are relatable even if you don’t kill people for hire. The show is only getting better because it’s letting Barry deteriorate while never losing its farcical, comedic voice. Two girls sell lemonade across the street from where Cristobal meets with his ruthless superiors from Bolivia. Life is both scary and funny in that way. With such a style, it’s refreshing to see a show like this continue to hit the target.

Barry” season three premieres April 24 and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.