Barry Season 3 First Reviews: Bill Hader Comedy Is 'Darker, Funnier, and Sharper Than Ever,' Critics Say

HBO's Emmy-winning series explores themes of mental health, trauma, and forgiveness as its signature comedic elements continue to permeate the episodes.

by | April 18, 2022 | Comments

After a three-year wait, Barry — HBO’s Emmy-winning dark comedy co-created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, which follows Barry Berkman (Hader), a downtrodden hitman who ends up finding his purpose in a low-level acting class — is finally back.

Last we saw the series, Barry was still struggling to put his life of professional murder behind him while cultivating his idea of a normal life with his actress girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg), trying to keep the drama between him and former handler Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root) to a minimum, and dealing with a conflict with grieving acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), whose detective girlfriend was previously killed by Barry in season 1. Through it all, the Chechens, under the new leadership of NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), were doing their best to thrive in their small drug trade niche while the Bolivian mafia was out for blood. Simply put, Barry’s life was quite complicated. By the looks of things, it still is.

The excitement for the show’s return is high. At the time this article was published, season 3 is Fresh with a 100% score on the Tomatometer. After viewing screeners of the first four or six episodes (depending on when reviews were published), here’s what critics are saying about Barry season 3.

Is it worth the wait?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

We’ve had to wait a considerable amount of time for “Barry” season 3 —the season 2 finale came all the way back in 2019, and the pandemic delayed things since then. I am happy to say the wait has been worth it, as the show has grown even more confident and more fascinating. – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

I am happy to report that as of the first four episodes provided for review, Barry is a refreshing reintroduction to a very strange and wonderfully engrossing story. – Allison Keene, Paste Magazine

Darker, funnier, and sharper than ever, season 3 of Barry is perhaps the show’s strongest outing yet – proving that even with three years off the air, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s series is still one of the best shows on television. – Lauren Coates, AwardsWatch

And yet, season three of “Barry” sees one of television’s most compelling, darkly comic series stepping back into the light with nary a beat skipped, finding new moral complications for its widening cast of characters without losing its offbeat sense of humor. – Clint Worthington,

How is Bill Hader?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

It would have been easy for Hader to simply do nothing; to trudge through scenes without direction, in order to convey Barry’s sunken state. But Hader can turn the light on and off, just as he can shade it with colors. There are new sides to Barry in Season 3 — layers that grew following the monastery attack, others that emerge in his plan for what’s next, and still more festering under the surface. Hader’s performance is active, even when he’s sitting still, and it helps keep us invested as Barry heads down his difficult path. – Ben Travers, IndieWire

At times it’s almost unsettling to watch – and that’s thanks in massive part to Bill Hader, who continues to deliver one of the most impressively versatile performances on television. Though Barry isn’t portrayed as a flat-out abuser this season, he does come dangerously close in some of his more tense scenes with Sally (Goldberg), and the unsettling dive into Barry’s darker side simply would not work without Hader’s performance. There’s a perpetually glazed-over look to Hader’s gaze as Barry floats through life, depressed, and when he finally does snap back into focus during his more dangerous moments, he cuts a genuinely frightening figure. – Lauren Coates, AwardsWatch

Hader has impressed in both prior seasons, wrapping his usual wildness with a sense of deadpan tragedy, but season three has him even more wrung out than usual. His sad, sunken eyes sit above scraggly stubble, and he claws through both sides of his life on autopilot. It’s a stellar opportunity to give Hader some meaty dramatic material but also puts the usual wry button on the show’s bursts of ultraviolence. – Clint Worthington,

​​Of course, Hader anchors the whole thing. Barry is more adrift than usual as the season starts. You wonder how much one conscience can take, how much debt the moral ledger can withstand. Barry wonders that, too, constantly. The shocking originality of Hader’s performance in the first season can’t be replicated, of course, but he manages to maintain the quality of it throughout. – Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

Hader continues to excel at finding little pieces of humanity in a character who is often sorely and intentionally lacking it. – Robert Brian Taylor, Collider

What about the rest of the cast?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

The changing dynamics of the season allow for particularly great performances from Goldberg as Sally, who’s both gobsmacked and empowered by her dawning success, and Winkler as Cousineau, who’s forced into reconciling his rage at Barry and into seeking forgiveness from the many Hollywood directors, producers, assistants, and actors he once terrorized with his actorly whims in his heyday. (“The guy who brought the loaded gun to the ‘Full House’ audition?” is how one remembered him.) Root, meanwhile, sells us on a particularly dark storyline involving Fuches.- Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, TheWrap

Through the six episodes that were provided to critics, Season 3 feels like Barry’s darkest season yet, but Carrigan still radically brightens each scene he’s in, delivering every line of dialogue with comic gusto. – Robert Brian Taylor, Collider

Sally, a steady presence throughout this show’s run, has a powerful arc running parallel to Barry’s that ought to place Goldberg in the heart of the Emmys conversation. – Daniel D’Addario, Variety

How is the writing and directing?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

The season is packed with twisting storylines, all of them fueled by questions about the nature of redemption, forgiveness, and vengeance. The ride is at turns gripping and very funny, with moments of unexpected pathos, all of it quite enjoyable, especially if you stop trying to figure out the details of the ongoing warfare between Bolivian and Chechen gangsters in Los Angeles that forms the backdrop of the season. – Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, TheWrap

Besides breaking it up with expertly layered humor, Hader and Berg also paint a vivid portrait through performance and imagery. One or the other directs every episode of Season 3, and their camera captures sunny Los Angeles in its hollow glow; when you’re down or stuck, there’s a drudgery to Southern California’s unceasing heat and monotonous days that’s rarely captured on film, but from the stark opening setting above a hilltop to Sally and Barry’s sterile apartment, even daylight offers little reprieve. Shadows aptly cover studio stages and meeting rooms, and thoughtful blocking emphasizes loneliness, frustration, and displacement. “Barry” remains beautiful, even when events turn ugly. – Ben Travers, IndieWire

“Barry,” then, is as juicily tense as it’s ever been. And it sets a new high for itself with a chase scene, deep into the season, that balances loopily unexpected humor with a real sense of peril. (It seems that last season’s episode “ronny/lily,” with its taekwondo-master tween girl nearly taking Barry out, set the precedent that there will be one jawdropping set piece per season, at least.) – Daniel D’Addario, Variety

The first two episodes are helmed by Hader, who continues to prove that he’s not just a great actor, he’s a great filmmaker to boot. Hader gives us multiple long-takes, wide angles, and close-ups that seemed designed to give us extreme anxiety. Later in the season, Hader directs a freeway chase scene that puts most modern action movies to shame. I’m sure a combination of approaches were used here, including green screen work. But the chase is handled in such a clear, effective manner that it feels real, and had me holding my breath. – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

What are the overall themes this season?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

Berg and Hader wrap each character in a cocoon of self-delusion that both comforts and suffocates. Everyone in the show, Barry included, is running from one transgression or another, scrambling desperately to prove themselves good people after all. Characters can point a gun at someone one minute, then beg for forgiveness from them the next; some get once-in-a-lifetime avenues to escape their conditions, only for greed or self-regard to pull them back in. – Clint Worthington,

In addition to second rounds, Barry Season 3 is all about second chances. There are various seeds of revenge being planted, but also the powerful idea that forgiveness must be earned. – Allison Keene, Paste Magazine

As NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) says in the premiere, “Forgiveness has to be earned,” and co-creators, writers, and directors Alec Berg and Bill Hader take no shortcuts in forcing Barry to work for any form of absolution — both with the people he’s hurt and the audience still watching. – Ben Travers, IndieWire

The series’ ideas about mental health (particularly post traumatic stress, depression, and emotional abuse) are more poignant than ever here, especially because the first few episodes of the season hit lighter on the comedy, forcing the viewer to sit and squirm while watching Barry’s life crumble around him. – Lauren Coates, AwardsWatch

Any final thoughts?

(Photo by Merrick Morton/HBO)

“Barry” is such an outstanding show you hate to see it end, but it’s constructed in such a way that it has to, and with the announcement that its fourth season would be its last, that’s probably a good thing. It hasn’t worn out its welcome yet, and it would be a shame if it got the chance to. – Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

We are blessed to have this show back in our lives, even if things get a little weird. – Brian Grubb, UPROXX

At its heart, “Barry” is about how life is terrible and mundane and sublime, funny and tragic and sweet, sometimes all at once, and they can’t be separated from each other. In this way, it’s one of the most meaningful, and complicated, uses of dark comedy on television. It’s also hard to tell whether the dark or the comedy will win in the end, but that’s what keeps us watching.- Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, TheWrap

in Season 3, the show has fully outgrown its cutesy premise to become one of TV’s best thrill rides. – Robert Brian Taylor, Collider

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