“Barry” has taken chances from the very beginning, which is certainly true of a fourth and final season that picks up where the third left off, with its hitman-turned-wannabe actor getting arrested. That paves the way for an even darker season that accentuates the show’s ensemble aspect while leaning a little too heavily on blurring lines with flights of fancy.
Thanks to “Succession,” “Barry” won’t be the highest-profile goodbye on HBO this spring, but the Emmy-nominated series isn’t chopped liver either. It’s fair to say, in fact, that while these episodes don’t quite measure up to what’s gone before, even a less-lethal “Barry” is still very, very good.
Bill Hader’s auteur turn as director-producer-star remains one of TV’s most unpredictable series, and the new season has a strong “Better Call Saul” vibe to it, triggered by fallout from the seemingly inevitable fact that Hader’s Barry couldn’t maintain his double life forever.
The consequences of his arrest flare out to both sides of that equation, from his acting teacher Gene Cousineau (as played by Henry Winkler, still a towering mixture of ego and need) and girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) to the rogues gallery of petty criminals in his orbit, including Fuches (Stephen Root) and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who has improbably found love in the course of his travels, while somehow turning “Barry” into a four-syllable name.
“Barry” has always wrestled with the discomfort of having a protagonist who murders people, and the question of empathizing with its namesake becomes particularly acute in these episodes with the character in prison. When Barry asks, “Are you mad at me?” with an almost-childlike naivete, it’s easy to forget, at least momentarily, some of the horrible things he’s done, even if the revenge-minded Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom) can’t.
Hader (who directed every episode) also excels at darkly comic visual gags, which are augmented in the new season with a few hysterical cameos by actual Hollywood figures, among them director Guillermo del Toro, made even funnier by how random they seem to be.
That said, the show’s surreal digressions and detours into fantasy become more distracting, in a way that feels a little too precious at times. The saving grace, consistently, is the strength of the cast, even if prison creates impediments to their interactions.
HBO made most but not all of the season available, and the series effectively keeps the audience on edge and guessing about where it will all end up, and how (or if) its various threads will connect.
The likelihood of a happy ending for everyone in “Barry”-land never seemed to be in the cards, but Hader and co-creator Alec Berg appear determined to exit on their own terms, as good (mostly) and sporadically frustrating as that might be. That’s why it’s hard to get mad at a show that takes such bracing creative risks, even with a season that isn’t quite the stone-cold killer that it has been.
“Barry” begins its fourth and final season April 14 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.