Written By: Eric Banks
One of my favorite shows of all time is Breaking Bad. It has great writing, brilliant cinematography, fascinating characters, and some of the best performances ever caught on camera. There is no question in my mind that Breaking Bad has earned its reputation as one of the greatest shows to ever hit the small screen, as the story of a chemistry teacher’s villainous descent into the criminal drug world made for some truly gripping television. Yet as much as I love Breaking Bad, there has always been one aspect of the show that really bugged me as a viewer. The character of Walter White has garnered a passionate fanbase, some of whom appear to like the character for the wrong reasons. Many people choose to see Walter White as the ultimate badass, instead of the narcissistic murderer he truly was. This wasn’t the show’s fault, as the writers did their best to show that Walter was a terrible person, yet it was never enough to disillusion the fans that genuinely looked up to him. This trend has been going on for a while now, as we’ve seen many great shows focused on terrible men, and yet there are always people who fail to realize just how horrible these characters truly are. This is where HBO’s new comedy series Barry comes in, as the show is not only funny, well-acted, and beautifully written, it also serves as an antithesis to the anti-hero phenomena that has been sweeping television.
The plot of Barry is, to put it mildly, wonderfully absurd. The story follows Barry Berkman, a hitman who desperately wants to leave his profession in hopes of becoming an actor. The only problem is that there are a lot of people who attempt to pull Barry back into a life of crime. One of these people is his handler Fukes, a weasley and morally bankrupt excuse for a man who you’ll love to hate. Barry also has to deal with the Cheechen mob, who are now led by the world’s most delightful gangster NoHo Hank. Other character’s include Barry’s somewhat narcissistic love interest Sally, and his significantly more narcissistic acting coach Gene Cosineou. While all of these characters prove to be interesting and entertaining, it’s the show’s depiction of violence that really makes it worth a watch.
The reason why Barry feels so cathartic is it’s refusal to paint Barry himself like an action hero, as the show never risks glorifying his violent actions. Whereas shows like Breaking Bad or The Shield often portray violence as very stylized and epic in scale, Barry frames violence through purposely lethargic cinematography. There’s no stylish editing, no cool lighting, no music cues, and no flashy fight choreography to mask the brutality of Barry’s actions. This approach to action serves as a great way to highlight the horrific nature of violence, as you are sitting there and observing the raw barbarity that is on screen. However, this style of filmmaking can also make the action seem funny, which ties in to how the show uses humor to demystify the art of violence. The directors of Barry love to expose the realistic awkwardness of an action scene, such as showing how a fight between two killers can quickly devolve into an absurd and sloppy struggle between two grown men. This use of humor helps deflate Barry’s status as a “badass” hitman, since it highlights the hilarious futility of violence. Barry’s use of humor allows the show to deconstruct violence without losing any sense of entertainment value, as it doesn’t matter whether you are laughing at the show’s brutality or feeling disturbed by it, since both reactions are proof that Barry has succeeded in its goals of grounding the prototypical television anti-hero.
If it wasn’t obvious before, you need to watch Barry. This is a show that serves as the perfect antidote for the antihero overindulgence that has been plaguing television for the past few years. Because as much as I love gritty shows like Breaking Bad or The Shield, it feels nice to have a series that understands the realistic implications of violence, yet does not underestimate the range of ways in which violence can be portrayed on screen. All of this is just a really fancy and somewhat pretentious way of saying that Barry is really fucking good.