For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, HBO’s hit show “Barry” (2018–) is about a hit man named (you guessed it) Barry trying to become a Hollywood actor. It stars Bill Hader (as Barry), Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Anthony Kerrigan and Stephen Root — each delivering the best performance of their life. And with episodes lasting no more than half an hour, the show somehow manages to make me laugh, bite my nails off and weep.
Now, I can see why my titular claim may come across as overly assertive, but I’m here to tell you that “Barry” brings something new to the table — something that “Dexter” (2006–13) or “Breaking Bad” (2008–13) never did. And that thing is genre blending. Let me explain.
If someone were to ask me to describe “Barry” in terms of its genre, I wouldn’t really know what to say. It’s equally hilarious, terrifying and heartbreaking, which is a rare (and difficult) combo to achieve. And considering the fact that it’s about a hit man, it has some of the wildest cold opens that I’ve ever seen on TV. These cold opens do not only set the tone for how each episode will play out, but also point out the ridiculous nature of it all — that we’re essentially rooting for a hired killer to succeed, find love and be happy. The concept is ridiculous, but when it takes place in a world that’s as ridiculous to the characters as it is to us, you find yourself in the unique position of relating to a hit man. And the cold opens do just that: ease you into this world of moral ambiguity before they cut to the title.
As mentioned before, each episode of “Barry” is 30 minutes long, which is not a lot of time. Consequently, you’d expect things to get messy when you throw a bunch of genres in a constrained amount of time. But “Barry” never gets messy (in that way, at least). Whereas shows like “Hannibal” (2013–15) struggle to find this balance within a single season, “Barry” can effortlessly do so within a single episode — sometimes even within a single scene. It makes the whole premise of the show a lot less pretentious and a lot more welcoming for the average viewer. The show’s smooth transitions also make you notice those that are not smooth, which are almost always completely intentional. Without these jarring cuts, the jokes wouldn’t land the way they do, nor would many of the dramatic moments.
All and all, HBO’s “Barry” is a fantastic show that keeps you on edge with its genre blending, smooth editing and unpredictable characters — in the best way possible. It’s one of those rare shows where the writing is so good that you can’t help but root for every character, even those like Barry who are morally ambiguous, which is why I think it’s the next “Breaking Bad.”