Back for its fourth and final season on Sunday, April 16th, HBO’s Barry missed a lot of watchlists in its previous seasons. Classified as a comedy, it proved to be too dark for people looking for more escapist, laugh out loud shows during the pandemic.
But the show remains a critics’ favorite and an Emmy darling, earning multiple nods and back to back wins for its lead, SNL alum Bill Hader, back in 2018 and 2019, as well as for the legendary Henry Winkler in his supporting role — all of them in the comedy category.
Don’t let the classification fool you, however. Barry is as much a psychological thriller, a mob drama, and a romance as it is a comedy, and while certain scenes will make you laugh, others will leave you gasping. Expect to hear about the show in your Sunday night social feeds and Monday morning water coolers over the next six weeks.
If you haven’t kept up or need a quick refresher to jump in, here’s your Watercooler Guide to Barry‘s final season.
What’s the premise?
Barry is a depressed Afghanistan vet turned hit man who stumbles into an acting class on an assignment in LA. Led by eccentric acting coach Gene Cousineau (Winkler), the class mesmerizes Barry, and he decides he wants to leave his criminal life behind and pursue the thespian life as a career. Quitting his job isn’t as easy as it seems, however.
Why it might be worth your time:
If you’re up for a morally complex, genre-ambiguous show that mixes shock with the laughs, you will be drawn in to Barry. Much of the series’ appeal can be attributed to Hader, who not only stars as the lead but also writes, directs, and produces along with Silicon Valley alum Alec Berg. Somehow, Hader manages to jolt and humor you, sometimes just a few minutes apart. He could have played the guy strictly for laughs; he does not. Instead, Barry is a fully fleshed-out and complicated guy. It’s debatable how redeemable he is, which makes for an interesting character study, and it’s one we don’t often see.
Every actor in the series fires on all cylinders. Anthony Carrigan steals every scene he’s in as NoHo Hank, an oddly upbeat criminal. Henry Winkler is utterly brilliant as Barry’s egocentric acting teacher Gene, and Sarah Goldberg, who plays aspiring star Sally, proves she needs to be cast in many more roles.
Much of what makes Barry so watchable is its unpredictability. Just as it seems the show will go one way, it takes a sharp left turn. With so many sequels and reboots dropping, Barry delivers a series that’s wholly original and bucks expectations through each season.
The Need to Know Characters:
Barry Berkman (Bill Hader): One of the more complex antiheroes, Barry is a bonafide criminal. But he genuinely wants to be a good person. He’s struggling with PTSD from his time served in Afghanistan, which the show never uses as an excuse for his psychopathic behavior. He’s an enigma, but he’s fascinating to watch.
Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler): Gene is a narcissist, but he’s a lovable one. There’s an odd charm to Barry’s acting teacher: he’s a hot mess, yet he sincerely wants his students to succeed. He even gets a love interest in the first season who helps bring out the best in him. Unfortunately for Gene, his girlfriend also happens to be the detective investigating Barry, and his relationship takes a tragic turn.
Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg): After they meet in Gene’s acting class, Barry and Sally fall for each other. She’s a determined actress who manages to overcome much of the adversities of life as a struggling actress in Hollywood. At first Sally comes off as likable, but when she starts to “make it,” she develops a nasty side, lashing out at those closest to her and dismissing people she deems beneath her. She’s as complicated as Barry, without the PTSD to explain it all.
Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root): One of the more icky characters, Fuches acts as Barry’s assassin manager. While Barry cares about Fuches, the feeling is not returned: Fuches sees Barry as a lucrative money-making machine. He doesn’t support Barry’s acting dreams or even Barry’s attempts to be a good person.
NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan): A personal favorite, NoHo Hank is by far the most endearing character. The leader of the Chechen mob, he is strangely bubbly and naive. He becomes friends with Barry and develops a close relationship with rival Bolivian mob boss Cristobal. NoHo Hank stands out because he’s not driven by money, he’s driven by love. In the original pilot, he was supposed to die. But the creators loved Carrigan’s comedic take so much that they kept him around.
Cristobal (Micheal Irby): The leader of the Bolivian mob, Cristobal shares a special connection with NoHo Hank. He’s a bit more professional and business-oriented, however; it’s clear he knows exactly what he’s doing. Much of Cristobal’s character arc is tied to NoHo Hank’s.
The Quick Refresher for Previous Seasons
If you missed the first three seasons or need a refresher, start with Season 1’s quick episode-by-episode synopses. Follow it with he Season 2 recap
A Season 3 refresher
When we last left Barry, his life fell apart. Sally left him, Fuches started telling families that Barry killed their loved ones, and Gene finally figured out that Barry was responsible for his girlfriend, Detective Moss’s, murder. Even though Barry tried to get Gene to forgive him, he never did and Gene set Barry up to be arrested in the final episode of season three.
Season four begins with Barry in prison. He may be losing his mind, and he’ll have to face off against Fuches, who’s also there. As for Sally, after the collapse of her TV series, which she also starred in, she heads home to Joplin, Missouri, which ironically was also the name of her show. The real reasons she’s fleeing? She murdered a man who was after Barry (in fairness to Sally, it was more self-defense). Our favorite mobsters, NoHo Hank and Cristobal, are still together, but they too, are on the run. But at least they have each other!
Based on early reviews, the fourth season is going to be a wild ride — pushing the boundaries of television, as NPR describes it. Surprisingly, Barry isn’t the main star this season; the ensemble shares equal time on screen. There are bound to be plenty of jaw droppers, and expect this season to earn some Emmy nods, a lot of social flurry, and additional buzz come August and September.
You can catch up on Barry and watch season four on HBO Max.