Barry: A Hero for A Troubled America
America is a bit of a mess right now. At some point the news stopped being something to check in on each day, and it became a tidal wave trying to drown us. If you are actually still one of the heroes trying to digest the inundation of headlines you may have noticed that the things that are darkly funny have begun to blur together with the things that are deeply horrible. Sometimes it is questionable whether I'm seeing a real headline, a headline in the Onion, or a plot summary for a new Black Mirror episode. Did you know that China is using a social rating system and if you fail it you can't use domestic airlines? Add to that a continuous stream of revelations about the abuse of women by the men who were once the core creators of our pop culture escapism, the men in office writing the laws, and the men in the media reporting on the whole system. America is overwrought. This is why you need to watch Barry, the show with the eponymous lovable assassin who stumbles into an acting class and begins to question his life purpose.
Yes, you need to retreat. But don't go too far.
I understand that you can only swim through a tidal wave for so long before you're exhausted and want to retreat. That's what pop culture is for. It's the perfect escapism machine to let us breathe for a minute before we soldier on. I support that. Right now though, it is important to not retreat so far that you shut your eyes to the world around you. Barry gives us a hero that is a war veteran grappling with serious personal issues and isolation as he tries to survive in civilian life. In essence, Barry is ours, as a society, to take responsibility for because we don't have a plan for bringing veterans back into everyday life. We can root for him as he struggles through a morally gray deep end and laugh at the comedic evil characters, but we are still faced with a societal issue that we should be doing better at solving. This keeps us from straying to far into the cocoon.
That might seem unpleasant, but we can't afford to stop being angry right now. We can't allow ourselves to slip into accepting the present America as the status quo. Game of Thrones and This Is Us are fine shows to have on your watching list but be wary. Try to remember that the world's problems aren't going to be solved by dragons or a good cry. Don't allow the constant news cycle to numb you to the point that you decide to escape forever and then oops, accidentally forget to vote. I recommend instead, keeping shows in your life like Barry that leave you feeling just a little unsettled so that you remember why you wandered here in the first place.
Satirical Comedy Will Save Us
Barry's use of dark comedy to make social commentary is one of the best uses of comedy, because it reminds us to look at the mess around us and take stock of the part that we have played in allowing it to get like this. Shows that mix drama, comedy, and social commentary together to make a point about the world such as Love, Catastrophe, Search Party, and Good Girls, should be on your watchlist just like Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee are essential news shows to watch. These shows gives us a better sense of what is wrong with the world than any News at 11 ever will. This type of comedy that is not afraid to skewer us, not only points a finger at a problem but also uses unexpected connections and juxtaposition, to get to heart of what the issues are. Choose comedies that shine a light on our hypocrisy instead of the kind that condones our asshole behavior. If you hate it when a show makes you think about something uncomfortable or difficult than perhaps it's time for you to take a deep look at how you are living your life. You might just be the problem.
Barry is more Better Call Saul than Breaking Bad
The premise is silly and absurd and if it was just played for the joke I don't think it would work. Bill Hader, fortunately brings sadness and vulnerability to the role. Like in the movie, The Skeleton Twins, he plays the emotion of "broken" extremely well. As extreme characters, like Henry Winkler as the acting coach, Stephen Root as the handler, and Anthony Carrigan as the high strung mobster swirl around him, he remains grounded and calm. Thanks to this, he anchors the crazy world and keeps it from spinning out of control (although it is still early in the season). As an anti-hero, Barry is much more like Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul than he is Walter White in Breaking Bad. Instead of reveling in watching him rise up against the system even as he burns his whole life down, he is rather a character that we want to have a second chance. We want Barry to figure it out and overcome his flaws even though it is clear that there are traps that will continue to pull him down.
At the time in which Breaking Bad came out, Walter White portrayed America's anger and frustration that if you played by the rules and did your best that you would not get ahead. Walter White was built on the idea that nice guys finish last. Over time though, "nice guy anger" leads to a boatload of problems both in Breaking Bad and in real life. Walter White's pride and anger led him to believe that he was at his best when he had power, money, and made people afraid. He thought that was the moment when he had won against the system when it was actually the moment that he had destroyed everything he cared about in his life. Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul and Barry are both just doing what they do best and unfortunately, due to personal failings, circumstance, or lack of guidance, neither can find a place in "upstanding" society for their skills. The logic that they use to justify their actions may be wrong but they are not after the same power and vindication that Walter White is. It's easier to root for Barry because he simply isn't as much of an asshole.
Some Final Thoughts
You still need to take care of yourself. I get it. If you allow yourself to become so exhausted that you can't participate anymore, then that's a problem as well. So take the breaks you need so you can soldier on. As long as you have a guide rope to lead you back to the fight, you're fine. I would suggest this show as one of the knots in your guide rope.
I also would like to mention this: D'Arcy Carden should be cast in everything. She is amazing. And finally, Bill Hader, if I ever have to hear that you are a horrible man of Hollywood, please have the good grace to come forward and admit it yourself.