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In conclusion, ‘Barry’ lacked resonance almost until the end

Bill Hader in a scene from "Barry."HBO via AP

Life on the outside of fashion. I’m in the minority, I think, regarding “Barry,” Bill Hader’s HBO series. It just came to an end after four celebrated seasons, and, after some initial enthusiasm, I just couldn’t understand its specialness. The critics and recappers wrote about it as a groundbreaking series worthy of micro-analysis. The Emmy voters have given it nine statues and nominated it for best comedy three times so far. Readers have raved to me about it in e-mails.    In a recent Tweet, Guillermo del Toro wrote, “BARRY was a beautiful experiment- bright, anarchic, bold- full of invention and messy humanity.  And it was the heralding of Bill Hader’s talent as a director and guiding force. An articulate, brave and cultured filmmaker.” Translation: He liked it, too.

At some point after season one, I struggled to understand what the show was about, what its central concerns were. Is it a look at how war ruins its soldiers? Is it, like some of the best antihero dramas, about whether a bad man can change? Is it a goof on Hollywood, or acting? Is it about the dangers of being too vulnerable to those around you, something like that? Maybe it was a little of all those and more, but still the issues at stake often seemed hazy to me.


I also struggled with character motivation, which frequently didn’t make sense to me. Would that character really do that … was a thought I often had. The more anarchic the plotting and character behavior became, the more frustrated I felt trying to give all the shooting and lying and criminal activity some meaning beyond the plot gyrations. Certainly there was fun to be had during the run of the show, both in small jokes and broad ironies. But ultimately, it never reached greatness status for me.

Even Sunday’s series finale seemed to lack resonance and sense, that is until the final moments, when young John — the son Barry cared so much about, or seemed to care so much about despite his choice to go kill Mr. Cousineau and potentially blow his family’s cover — watched the movie version of his father’s life. I loved that twist, which was funny enough as it turned Barry into a hero. It certainly didn’t save the series for me, but at least I could see what the writers were going for.


I realize how this must sound to fans of the show. I regularly hear from people who simply never understood “Succession” and all the praise it received, and I think they’re just missing its excellence. So I’ve looked at shows from both sides now.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at Follow him @MatthewGilbert.