Succession isn't the best HBO show on at the moment – it's Barry

bill hader, barry, season 4
Barry, not Succession, is in fact HBO's best showHBO

A HBO show into its fourth and final season, packed with shock twists and flawless performances, with each episode knocking it out of the park. No, we're not talking about Succession – it's actually Barry.

Yes, Succession has been terrific, but somehow Barry has managed the incredible feat of being even better. And it's managed to do so with episodes being half the runtime of Succession's, resisting the urge for a bloated final season (take note, Ted Lasso).

In its final season, Barry feels very far indeed from the black-comedy concept of its first season, where Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), an ex-marine turned hitman, took up acting to find a new sense of purpose in life.

The elements and most of the central core of characters still remain from that first season, but the show has morphed into something else. It's still technically a (very dark) comedy – it's just a comedy that also has emotionally devastating and bleak moments, and one where it feels like no character will have a happy ending.

But don't let that put you off, as Barry's final season, like Succession, has been exceptional television that, if it sticks the landing, will go down as one of TV's best finales.

bill hader, barry, season 4

Some shows in their final season can rest on their laurels and continue to deliver what they think the fans want, but not Barry.

Season three's finale rocked the status quo with Barry being arrested for the murder of Janice Moss in the season-one finale, having been set up by Janice's father Jim (Robert Wisdom) and Barry's former acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). Not content with this gamechanging shift, season four mixes things up yet again.

This week's episode (the fourth of eight in the final season) delivered two major reveals – a time jump and a devastating death – that completely change what we expected from the final season. That these came in a largely Barry-free episode underline just how willing the show is to change up the formula.

Succession has had its own gamechanging shift in its third episode, of course, but largely that show is still on a similar path to what we expected (it's literally in the title). With Barry, it's impossible to tell exactly where it'll end up and we're only confident, as we mentioned before, that it won't end well for anybody.

anthony carrigan, barry, season 4

For some shows this could be an issue, but with Barry it's kind of the point. Redemption has been an overriding theme of the entire show and, more specifically, whether everybody deserves it. In Barry, it's hard to know whether any of the main characters do.

With the likes of Barry, Fuches (Stephen Root) and NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), it's easy to argue that they don't given they've killed a lot of people. But you could also make the case that Gene and Barry's on-off girlfriend Sally (Sarah Goldberg) don't deserve it either. They might not have killed anybody, but they're both self-obsessed narcissists who, whatever happens to them, haven't really changed.

None of them are exactly likeable either, although NoHo Hank comes closest with his relentlessly positive attitude. Like TV's best antiheroes (think Breaking Bad, The Wire or The Sopranos), they're all magnetic characters who you wouldn't want to have a pint with, but can't stop watching to see what depths they plumb next.

It helps that, also like Succession, Barry has an excellent cast who are so good, it's impossible to pick a stand-out. They've lived these characters for four seasons and have made them authentic people, even as they're doing ridiculous things like acting out a one-man show for a journalist instead of doing an interview.

henry winkler, barry, season 4

The element that has really lifted Barry to become the best show on TV right now though is Bill Hader, who has stepped up to direct all eight episodes of the final season as well as writing three of them.

Hader had already been responsible for some of the strongest episodes in Barry's run to date, including season two's 'ronny/lily' and season three's '710N', and directing the entire final season gives the show a cohesion it sometimes lacked before. He has a wonderful eye for a sight gag and unique framing for action sequences that no other director on the show can match.

Previously, a Hader-directed episode guaranteed that you were in for a brilliantly-shot episode with at least one inventive sequence. Now you get such moments in every episode, such as a hilarious fixed-camera sales pitch from NoHo Hank and Cristobal (Michael Irby) and a quite terrifying fourth wall-breaking acting lesson by Sally.

These visual flourishes keep up the heightened, often surreal, world that Barry takes place in, despite its subject matter getting darker and darker. There's simply no other show where you'd have a failed assassination attempt by two podcasters who use dodgy technology. (Oh, and their handler is played by Guillermo del Toro.)

guillermo del toro, barry, season 4

It might seem like a bold claim to say Barry is better than Succession, but we're still making it. It's no slight on Succession – it's just a reflection of how Barry has upped its already-impressive standard to new heights in its final season.

Barry might not end well for any of its characters, but you'll have the best time watching their inevitable downfalls.

Barry (and Succession) air on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK.

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