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‘Barry’ goes out in its terms, but only with a marginal ‘Wow’ factor

<i>Courtesy of HBO</i><br/>Bill Hader in the
Courtesy of HBO
Bill Hader in the "Barry" series finale.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “Barry’s” final season didn’t live up to the high bar set by its first three, a sense underscored by its too-cute-in-places series finale. Yet give writer-producer-director-star Bill Hader credit for going out on his terms – again subverting expectations in the most unpredictable of ways – as well as for one of the most explosively funny visual gags in recent memory.

Despite its admirable ambition, the show’s time jump seemed like a questionable idea when it happened in the middle of the season, and everything that followed merely underscored that point, which was exacerbated by the flights of fancy and fantasy that preceded it.

All that paved the way, though, for what looked to be an epic showdown in the finale, with Hader’s Barry on a mission to save his young son and Sally (Sarah Goldberg) from the clutches of NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) and Fuches (Stephen Root).

Cue the laughs, then, when Hank and Fuches’ men ended up blowing each other to pieces before Barry could even arrive, in a scene that felt plucked from a Quentin Tarantino movie (think “Inglourious Basterds”), with the absurd gore magnifying the sheer comic blackness.

As it turned out, the hour didn’t end there but could easily have. As constructed, the family reunion set up the jarring but not entirely surprising moment when Cousineau (Henry Winkler) killed Barry, whose final word, “Wow,” turned out to be an only fitfully accurate title.

Once again leaping ahead, the closing sequence – with Barry’s now-teenage son watching the Hollywood-ized movie version of his father’s story – reinforced Hader’s concept of taking showbiz conventions and turning them on their heads. For all that he had done, Barry would be remembered as a hero.

The bleakness of “Barry” leaving its title character dead and Cousineau wrongly imprisoned was balanced, somewhat, by Sally having found what appeared to be a comfortable life that still kept her in contact with the performing dreams she once harbored. If redemption eluded Barry – in terms of real life, anyway – she had managed to find a measure of it.

In metaphorical terms the “Barry” finale, similarly, couldn’t entirely redeem the season’s shortcomings. But in the moments when it was good the episode captured what had made the series so distinctive and did, indeed, have a “Wow” factor.

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