In HBO’s “Barry,” Bill Hader defies expectations to perfectly blend laughs with tragedy

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HBO’s newest TV series Barry has been called a dark comedy, black comedy, crime comedy, tragicomedy, funny drama, dramedy, crime drama, hitman comedy, twisted comedy, and, just now, by me, a “darkly funny tragic thriller”—a genre I just made up.

All of these labels are essentially saying versions of the same thing, which is that Barry blends elements of the comedy and drama genres together. It’s dark and disturbing and sinister and bloody, but it’s also witty, weird, and, at times, viscerally hysterical. It’s the sock and buskin combined into one strange face. A dark comedy. A dramedy. Whatever.

How you classify Barry matters far less than the fact that it’s an exceptional TV show, in no small part due to that ability to blur lines and defy genre expectation. The HBO series is the latest example in a growing trend of great television shows that seamlessly blend light with dark, humor with tragedy. Like these shows, Barry taps into something deeply human—the relentless juxtaposition of pleasure and despair that shapes the arc of our lives.