Barry takes its rightful place in the pantheon of TV greats

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Barry (season 4) ★★★★½

When the third season of Barry concluded last June, with moments of pure dream logic, coruscating violence and the arrest of the show’s main character, Bill Hader’s hitman turned aspiring actor Barry Berkman, it felt like a conclusive ending; culpability, acceptance, and imprisonment were woven together. But the real finale, the fourth and final season, shapes as true closure. The show made us see the truth of these flawed characters, now we get the ramifications.

Bill Hader as hitman turned aspiring actor Barry Berkman in the HBO series Barry.Credit: HBO/Foxtel

The first thing you notice is that the theme music is gone. The make-an-entrance motif that gave Barry a showbiz strut has been replaced by silence. This final season is an immense juggling act, true to the spirit of Hader and Alec Berg’s black comedy, but also looking to shear away the comfortable and the familiar. The humour is bleaker, the absurdism even more jarring, and the bloody twists disturbingly frank. Between Barry and Succession, we’re in the golden age of shocking final seasons.

“If I hadn’t tried to understand myself we wouldn’t be here,” complains Barry, now in jail awaiting trial for the murder of a police detective at the close of season one. Most of the characters, not just Barry, speak a truth they don’t fully comprehend. It’s why they’re shocked when the world turns against them. Barry’s ex-girlfriend, Sally (the transfixing Sarah Goldberg), is still struggling to understand why she lost her promising Hollywood career, staggering from one rejection to another without insight.

Hader, the former Saturday Night Live comic, directed every episode of this final season, and his imprint is felt from the tight zooms into forlorn faces to a deadpan action sequence shot with Looney Tunes logic. No one is simply redeemed: having helped catch Barry, his acting coach and mentor, Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), is back to making extremely bad decisions. These flawed people are as unpredictable as the narrative’s tonal shifts, where farce bleeds into tragedy before you’re ready for it.

Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) is one of Barry’s many flawed characters.Credit: HBO/Foxtel

Everything that Barry has masterfully traded upon, from the Hollywood satire to the truly loopy conversations between career criminals, remains in play, but the outcomes push the show towards a wrenching ending. The show’s comic relief, Chechen gangster NoHo Hank, delivers a searing, self-indicting confession, but it makes him feel complete until he realises he’s been too truthful. That’s a brutal trade-off, but it’s the kind of painful calculation that Barry has been steadily building to. It’s done: put this weird little show in the pantheon.

Boom! Boom! The World Vs. Boris Becker ★★★
Apple TV+

Leading documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney spoke to German tennis great Boris Becker twice for this documentary: firstly in 2019, when Becker was cavalier and confident, then in 2022, when he was crushed by a looming British prison sentence for deceiving his bankruptcy creditors and trustees. It’s a perfect distillation of Becker’s fall, yet somehow the narrative of this nearly four-hour piece is circuitous and initially somewhat ineffectual.

On the surface the problem appears to be that the first of two feature-length episodes is essentially a recap of Becker’s life and career, which took off when he won the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1987 aged just 17. It’s curious, but discursive. Gibney appears intrigued by the psychology of elite tennis players, and that Becker is an entry point. Interviews with Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe are philosophical and wide-ranging.

Boom! Boom The World v Boris Becker.Credit: Apple TV+

Becker comes into sharper focus in the second episode, which takes his global fame and uses it to examine the struggles in his personal life, the racism he experienced in Germany for marrying a Black woman, Barbara Feltus, and the calamitous mess he made of his considerable finances. There’s a sharper, shorter and probably better edit to be made here.

The Night Agent

Luciane Buchanan and Gabriel Basso in The Night Agent. Credit: Dan Power/Netflix

Netflix gets in on the Jack genre, such as see Jack Ryan and (Jack) Reacher, with this action-thriller about an FBI agent assigned to the White House, Peter Sutherland (Gabriel Basso), who answers the phone that never rings and finds himself caught up in a vast conspiracy. The Shield creator, Shawn Ryan, does his best to put some texture and moral tension in this fast-paced series, but at best this a solid, unspectacular run-and-gun narrative that at least has a zesty female counterpart, Rose Larkin (Luciane Buchanan), for Peter to investigate with.

Jury Duty
Amazon Prime

Ronald Gladden and James Marsden in Jury Duty.Credit: Amazon Freevee

Bless James Marsden, because few Hollywood actors have his willingness to mix up the roles they take. However, this conceptual comedy may be a step too far. When 29-year-old contractor Ronald Gladden turns up for jury duty in Los Angeles he finds himself on a civil trial with an eccentric jury, which includes actor James Marsden. It’s all staged, with the show designed to put Ronald, who has a good heart, through one embarrassment after another. It’s like one of Nathan Fielder’s passing ideas got produced and quickly proved to be inconsequential.


Jeremy Renner and his crew convert old buses in Rennervations.

Marvel star Jeremy Renner, recently in the news for a serious snow plow accident, is a wry if somewhat guarded celebrity presence in this reality series where his crew of extreme mechanics convert old buses into mobile facilities for in need communities. Chicago gets a recording studio for at-risk youth, Rajasthan in India a water treatment plant, and Renner gets to happily angle grind and buttress his brand. An inoffensive, positive piece of star power.

Flack (seasons 1+2)

Anna Paquin with co-stars Lydia Wilson, right, and Rebecca Benson, centre, in Flack.Credit: Fox Showcase

Anna Paquin buried her long run as True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse with a ferociously complicated performance in this sharp-elbowed British comedy about a rapacious Hollywood publicist who serves as a fixer for hire even as her own life fractures and falters. Debuting in 2019, Oliver Lansley’s show was cynical about the rich and famous, delivering some frightful scenarios for Paquin’s Robyn to handle, but it let that professional detachment seep into the private life of the publicist and her associates. There are only 12 episodes, but that’s more than enough.

* Stan is owned by Nine, the owner of this masthead.

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