3.5 out of 5 stars

Alec Berg and Bill Hader’s comedy-drama Barry has always leaned into the darker side of comedy, but the fourth and final outing of the show dives deep into the darkest depths possible for the genre.

For the uninitiated, the series follows Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), a veteran of the Afghanistan war who now works as a hitman under the guidance of Munroe Fuches (Stephen Root). But while working a hit job for the Chechen mafia, Barry ended up in the acting masterclass of Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), a low-rent thespian who frequently exaggerates his career and status. And after attending one of Gene’s classes, Barry decided he wanted to put his violent past behind him and become an actor in Los Angeles instead.

Barry has always balanced genres and tones. The show started as a fish-out-of-water comedy about a hitman trying to make it in Hollywood, overcoming his past to create new relationships, but as the story evolved it started to blend the comedy with the violent complications of the controlling Fuches, Barry’s own mafia connections, and the eccentrically lovable mobster NoHo Hanks (Anthony Carrigan).

The series has always thrived on the concept that Barry is a good guy, despite having done a lot of bad things. Hader always played the character with a lost puppy charm that made you want to forgive him, but last season audiences finally had to admit that he was, at best, an anti-hero.

Season 3 asked audiences to wonder if men like Barry can ever really change, and season 4 definitively answers this question. Through tightly scripted half-hour episodes, Barry explores the nature of revenge and forgiveness… and the more the body count rose, the harder it becomes to forgive the title character. What started as hits on people we’re told are bad has now evolved to encompass the deaths of people we’d perceive as innocent civilians.

We meet Barry and Fuches at the start of this last season heading to jail, as their previous crimes have finally caught up with them. Even from prison, Barry is still trying to get his former acting teacher to forgive him, but Cousineau only has self-interests at heart. Considering Barry’s spent three seasons seeking absolution, he’s not keen on it when presented in front of him.

Sally (Sarah Goldberg), Barry’s on/off lover, has returned home after a foul-mouthed tirade that lost her the television show she desperately craved and she fell into Barry’s vortex of violence. So here she reverts to the scared little girl she was once allowed to be in her parent’s space. And while Barry may not be the hero of the show anymore, empathy for his collateral damage is never lost. Goldberg is an impressive performer who sadly isn’t given a moment to shine for the final run of episodes.

NoHo Hank and his own love, rival Bolivian gangster Christobal (Michael Irby), are living in bliss into it all goes wrong. Anthony Carrigan manages to go between a camp goofball and a terrifying criminal in a second. You can’t help but feel NoHo Hank’s and Sally’s plots move 20x faster to make up for the dark incarcerated hole at the centre of this show.

The one area where the series always delivered laughs was the behind-the-scenes look at the world of showbusiness. This season distinctly lacks this angle with Sally and Gene distracted by more urgent issues. Sally does take on the role of acting coach early in the season which leads her to the filming of a Wonder Woman-style blockbuster (directed by CODA’s real-life director Sian Heder). The scene where she tries to steal the role only makes you mourn the sharp cultural satire of the earlier seasons.

Bill Hader (who directs every episode) showcases his immense talent, especially for darkly comic visual gags. The new season relies more on the visual than the written gags, including a few hysterical gags which include a cameo from a scenery-chewing Guillermo Del Toro. Whilst there aren’t many laughs delivered by the cast, there is plenty of slapstick to be found if you keep your eyes on the screen.

Barry has always thrived on unpredictability, but it plays a little fast and loose with that in season 4. The show delivers such a sharp mid-season shift it’ll give you whiplash! Both narratively and visually, the show switches pace so quickly, it feels almost cruel to those watching it as it’s released on a weekly schedule. As frustrating as some of the decisions may be, it’s hard not to be impressed at just how wide some of the creative swings are here.

Barry doesn’t go out with the bang it deserves. Dark until the point it becomes a bleak, uncomfortable watch, some of the gags feel shoehorned in because that’s what audiences expect from a show co-created by the former Saturday Night Live alumnus.

USA | 2023 | 8 EPISODES | 16:9 HD | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

writers: Bill Hader, Nicky Hirsch, Emma Barrie, Taofik Kolade, Duffy Boudreau & Liz Sarnoff.
director: Bill Hader.
starring: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Anthony Carrigan, Henry Winkler, Sarah Burns & Robert Wisdom.