‘Barry’ Found Its Old, Weird Groove Again

The best of this show has always found a balance between the odd and the tragic. This week's "You're Charming" is no exception.
Barry Season 4 Episode 3 Winkler Melamed
Fred Melamed and Henry Winkler in "Barry"
Merrick Morton/HBO

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Barry” Season 4, Episode 3, “You’re Charming.”]

Weird things happen on “Barry.” They always have. For all the talk about how the show has gotten darker with each passing season, part of that comes from how that weirdness gets woven into the fabric of the show. In the beginning, the oddities that popped up were almost novelties, things designed to distract from the fact that one man’s soul was being siphoned away with each passing job. “Ronny/Lily” was something to be unpacked, a mystery where you could still find a weird sense of cathartic comfort in Stephen Root shouting from behind the wheel of a car.

Over time, that morphed into something else. By last season’s “710N,” the wild, out-of-the-blue parts of “Barry” became more dangerous. A highway chase was not only the show tackling an action setpiece on a grander scale, it was a bigger threat. By the time Hank (Anthony Carrigan) finds himself chained to a radiator in the Season 3 finale, listening to a giant animal attack his captors, the bizarre becomes something menacing. That hard-to-explain, dreamlike feeling became fully nightmarish.

So, in its own way, this week’s “You’re Charming” finds “Barry” tapping into some of its old spirit again. From the opening sequence providing a “Hey, that guy looks kinda like Guillermo Del Toro…Wait, that is Guillermo Del Toro!” moment, all the way through the ever-reliable Richard Riehle nailing the “Oh shit. Where the hell is Berkman!” button, the weirdness here has gone back to being an inherent part of the show rather than something that merely happens to the people at its center.

Take Gene (Henry Winkler), a man who has not lived a normal life. Rip Torn gave him a gun! (What a trio in this first scene in the DA’s office. Winkler and Fred Melamed are national treasures, but let’s not overlook Charles Parnell, who’s become the ideal deadpan straight man to all the chaos in this Berkman case.) So leading a two-man attempt to destroy one reporter’s hard drive becomes something that he can adjust to quickly, however uncomfortable he may be with breaking a window or two. Turning into a tour guide, ushering Lon Oneil’s wife through her own house, is an instant transformation for him. Meanwhile, in the background, Tom tossing the desktop into the pool (with a perfectly sound-mixed “Hyah!!”) is “Barry” at its finest: a bit of the surreal so effortlessly integrated into a scene that you have no choice to but to accept it.

At Gene’s theater, Sally (Sarah Goldberg) is finding out what happens when a new batch of students reject her own idea of normal. Using Gene’s emotional bullying tactics to try to coax a great performance out of her lone, remaining student is a perfect example of how physical violence isn’t the only thing cyclical in “Barry.” Her teaching methods are another in a long list of things on this show that are given, intended as gifts but taken as injuries. Barry’s misguided sense of being a Good Boyfriend or a Good Friend led to a few of these. Fuches (Root) giving constant employment to Barry (Bill Hader) could be seen as another. Hader, behind the camera, puts the audience in the shoes of Kristen (Ellyn Jameson) as Sally walks up and really confronts her with a stream of harsh assumptions and provocations. The idea that Sally never bothered finding out Kristen’s name before tearing into her is a perfect little detail in Emma Barrie’s script.

Barry Season 4 Episode 3 Sarah GoldbergMerrick Morton/HBO
Sarah Goldberg in “Barry”Merrick Morton/HBO

After an entire episode of that oddness simmering underneath every Hans Zimmer “Rain Man” music montage and Gummi Bear, the closing centerpiece of “You’re Charming” brings it all to the surface. Watching Barry scrunch up his face during his meeting with the witness protection team is the moment that locks the audience in with him for the rest of the episode. Him recognizing that something is off is the only clue because he’s the only one who can sense it. To paraphrase a prince of Florin, that’s why he’s still alive.

It’s also why Fred Armisen’s cameo casting here makes so much sense, too. You might recognize Dan Bakkedahl as the guy who’s “broken a few eggs,” but he at least makes sense as a slippery guy working for the government who’s made his share of mistakes and still has a job. That’s who he played for years on “Veep.” But once you see Armisen, that’s some intentional dissonance. That’s “I had a dream I was meeting with the FBI but then Fred Armisen showed up and he tried to use a pen to shoot me and his hand blew off.” There’s still a sense of weight and shock when bullets fly and bodies drop, but this is the kind of weirdness that Barry can meet (and has met) on his own terms.

That whole sequence in the briefing room is paced and blocked out in a way that undercuts how chaotic everything is. There’s a straightforward clarity as Barry takes in the location of the shooter in the ceiling tile, picks up a makeshift shield, looks down to the floor to grab the gun and makes his way to the safety of a corner. You’re seeing how Barry sees a life-threatening situation. It’s a puzzle and a blueprint he can follow to save himself. Because it’s “Barry,” that means we also get a world-class double take from Hader as the assassin falls through the roof. The whole thing is bloody and dangerous…and also happens to be a farce. That’s “Barry.”

It’s also Season 4 of “Barry,” so all of that comes with swirling ideas of misunderstandings and betrayals and putting on a show and wanting to leave everything behind. You can’t have Len (Patrick Fischler) dropped on his wife’s doorstep covered in dirt and suddenly speaking German without Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom) cleaning out his trunk first. The conversations between Barry and Hank about taking advantage of friendship, Barry yelling to himself in the prison yard, Fuches getting uneasy about nicknames: those are all the actions of people trying to make sense of a world where weird things are part of the fabric of their everyday life. Each of them trying to take control of those shenanigans and use them for their own purpose is a choice that has consequences. Whatever clarity Barry might get in the coming weeks now that he has a path to outside, that might come at a price, too.

Grade: A

“Barry” Season 4 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.