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'Barry' Season Three: 'Noose Is Tightening,' Says Bill Hader

HBO's 'Barry'
Bill Hader in HBO‘s ‘Barry’ (Image credit: HBO)

Season three of Barry arrives on HBO Sunday, April 24. Bill Hader plays Barry, who looks to put his hitman days behind him, and focus on his acting. 

Hader and Alec Berg created the show.

Barry was up for the best comedy Emmy in seasons one and two. Berg is pleased to see critics, and a wide audience, digging the dark comedy. “Bill and I make the show we want to make,” he said. “We push it out there and hope people find it and see in it what we see in it.”

He added, “We’re incredibly pleased people seem to get what we are going for.”

Hader, who sat for the B+C/Multichannel News podcast Series Business, said he essentially has no idea if people dig the show. “Unless someone comes up to me and says something, I never know if people are into it or not,” he said, adding that he avoids social media. 

That mindset is a result of Hader’s time on Saturday Night Live, where “one week they loved you and the next week they hated you.”

He added, “You just kinda go, I can’t deal with this.”

Berg said Barry works because it keeps the audience guessing. “The show is always very surprising,” he said. “It goes extremely dark in places, and right when it gets its darkest, something really funny happens. “We catch people leaning the wrong way.”

Berg likens that aspect of the show to Space Mountain at Disneyland, where the coaster makes a bunch of right turns in a row, then veers left. “It’s part of what we enjoy doing with the show,” he said. “People enjoy being fooled.”

So is Barry truly a comedy, or a drama with some funny bits? “I don’t know what it is,” said Berg. “It is the show.”

Hader said, “I think it’s a comedy by virtue that it’s 30 minutes, but I don’t see it necessarily as a drama either. It’s just a story with bits of everything in it.” 

Berg spoke of “finding the emotion in every scene,” and cutting comedic bits that just don’t move the story or accurately reflect the characters. “We care about the truth of these characters,” he said. 

Hader makes it all work with a deft performance. Berg noted how Barry’s criminal ventures are high stakes but low drama, while his acting pursuits are low stakes and high drama. “Bill is incredibly good at playing both those realities,” he said. “When he’s acting, he becomes eager and wide-eyed and naive and excited. When he murders, he becomes an automaton.”

Hader, Berg said, “is one of the most effortlessly talented people I’ve ever worked with.”

Barry was shut down a couple of weeks before shooting the new season, thanks to COVID. The writers and producers rewrote season three and even scripted season four. “We have a much better sense of where we’re going and what we need in season three,” said Berg. “I’m very, very hesitant to say COVID was a good thing, but it was a silver lining to the cloud.”

Hitman Barry is in a dark place in season three, according to Hader. “The noose is tightening around him,” he said. “We’ve never kind of seen him in this vulnerable place, really.”

Berg’s credits include Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. An ‘Alec Berg’ character occasionally popped up on Seinfeld. He mentioned something Seinfeld said, about how trying to make a successful show will probably result in failure, while trying to make a good show will yield better results. 

“Bill and I said, let’s make something we think is really good, and hopefully other people agree,” he said. “If they don’t, at least we are able to go home and have this thing we are proud of.” ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.