The Best ‘Barry’ Episodes, from ‘710N’ and ‘Forgiving Jeff’ to ‘It Takes a Psycho’

It’s hard to think of any television show that has over-delivered on its premise more than “Barry.” You’d be forgiven for thinking a show billed as “a hitman begins taking acting classes” sounded like the worst idea on the planet when the series was announced in 2016. But if there’s one thing the show has definitively proven (even if we arguably should have known it before), it’s that you should never bet against Bill Hader.

Hader’s “Barry,” which he co-created with “Seinfeld” and “Silicon Valley” veteran Alec Berg, is more than just the first major TV role for a “Saturday Night Live” legend. It’s been a four season rollout for one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. And it happened alongside an overdue Henry Winkler renaissance; yet another knockout from Stephen Root; and breakout performances for Anthony Carrigan and Sarah Golberg.

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From its very first episode, “Barry” established an inimitable style that blended gut-wrenching sadness with contemporary absurdism and meticulously measured doses of whimsy. Hader’s steady directorial hands and deep interest in the humanity of every single character allowed the show to shift focus from acting class personality clashes to international drug wars without ever losing its distinct brand of magic.

Over the course of its triumphant run, “Barry” has been many things. It’s been a dark comedy about the inevitable alienation that comes from living in Los Angeles. It’s been a drug drama with genuinely fascinating storylines about the illicit dealings between the most nefarious actors in Chechnya and Bolivia. It’s been an action thriller with occasionally jaw-dropping spectacle. And when they really want to fuck with our hearts, it’s been a Greek tragedy about how our past traumas sometimes turn us into someone — or something — utterly irredeemable.

In one sense, “Barry” is like a spaceship (“Fly like Bugs Bunny in—”) made of unfamiliar parts that you could never hope to reassemble if you smashed it. All of the strange little pieces make up such a beautiful whole that it can be difficult to rank the merits of one episode over another. But try, we must.

Ahead of this Sunday’s sure-to-be-devastating series finale, we ranked our 10 favorite episodes in terms of their filmmaking artistry and what they say about Barry Berkman’s emotional journey. Keep reading for our picks.

With editorial contributions by Wilson Chapman, Proma Khosla, Erin Strecker, and Ben Travers.

[Editor’s note: For episode titles in “Barry” Season 1, the “Chapter: —” formatting from Gene Cousineau’s acting book has been dropped, and subsequent episode titles have been capitalized.]

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