'Barry' Is 'Kindergarten Cop,' But With Actual Thought And Effort
Guys, I really like Barry. Again, partly because I’ve got a thing for Bill Hader (which is making more sense as I watch him act more, but is also making significantly less sense as I watch him be a murderer. Maybe I really do have a type), partly because the cast kicks so much ass, but mostly because the show is just really, really good. I want to get all of this out of the way because sometimes when you write a review of a movie or show you really like, people in the comments are all, “Got you! This isn’t a pure review! You liked this. You’re only writing about it because you think it’s good!” Which, you know, is a weird thing to do. I don’t think liking a show makes the fact that you watched it, and are now telling people your thoughts on that show any less of a review. But just in case there’s anyone out there waiting to see if I’ve violated some kind of “having feelings on art” objectivity standard: you got me. I think the show is really good.
More importantly, I think it’s a carefully constructed show that might as well be the difference between being good and bad. To wit, there’s a reason I’m comparing Barry to the 1990 classic film Kindergarten Cop, and that reason is one of these has a plot focused on the underlying motivations of realistic characters and one treated its plot like dog shit. I’ll let you figure out which is which.
Both the film and the show start with fairly “wacky” premises. A rough and tumble cop has to teach five-year-olds (a job usually reserved for people who are “caring” and “emotional” and “women”). Or a hitman wants to become an actor. Kindergarten Cop decided the premise was enough to justify the whole movie. The motivating factor was “Wouldn’t it be funny if Arnold had to hang out with kids? Let’s make that happen!” The plot was essentially a backdrop to justify reaching that situation (the lady cop got sick the day she was supposed to go undercover so now Arnie has to do it? Because this one school district doesn’t have subs? There’s a whole line of work set up for just this event, people). I’m not even saying Kindergarten Cop is a bad movie. I’m just saying it’s not compelling, because once the surprise of Action-Hero-plus-small-children wears off, there’s not a lot to connect to.
Barry, on the other hand, decided to do this remarkable thing where they focused on the characters in the wacky situation instead of just the wackiness itself. (Not to be confused with The Wackness, which you should all feel free to focus on. It’s also great.) Barry Berkman as a fully fleshed-out character isn’t just in a weird situation. He did things that put him there. He has feelings about his situation, and, get this, those feelings then impact his actions, which put him into new situations. Almost like he’s real people. It’s not actually that wacky that Barry-the-hitman would be drawn to acting, because both pursuits were fueled by his feelings of disconnection and longing for purpose. You could even argue that the need to belong was what led him to join the Marines in the first place, and acclimated him to killing. (I’m still not entirely sure what led Fuches to think that he should get into the murder-for-hire business with his best friend’s kid, but I would be interested in it. That guy might be a full-on sociopath.)
It’s why the final scenes of Sunday night’s episode worked as well as it did. I’ve had to watch the episode three times now just to make sure I wasn’t imagining how quickly the ending moved. I finally timed it, and in a span of four minutes, Barry:
— decides to make the unsafe choice
— struggles with and eventually murders a man with his bare hands
— drives to Sally’s house to be a shoulder for her to lean on
— makes out with Sally, making it very clear she wasn’t interested in his shoulders
— spends few minutes in bed reflecting on both his new, possible future with Sally, and feeling guilty for murdering a man in cold blood.
Three minutes and forty-two seconds.
And none of what happened seemed out of nowhere or unbelievable. Every jump from comedy to horror to comedy to romance back to horror and to comedy again felt deserved. Because every step was a logical progression of Barry trying to get what he wants. He doesn’t want Fuches to get killed. He does want to hang out with Sally. He wants to feel connected to people. He doesn’t want the Chechens fucking up any of his shit. Barry is great because it recognizes that good stories don’t happen because of wackiness. Good stories are about the way that humans force wackiness to become mundane in order to get through it, and, hopefully, to become happy.
On the plus side, we’ll get at least one additional season to find out if Barry gets his happy ending.