Barry was the better show.
So it only makes sense that four years later, the Bill Hader dark comedy would return right when Marvel Studios released one of its most anticipated projects with Moon Knight, starring Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke. Once again, Barry is coming out on top, but this time, the similarities between the two shows are greater than just a shared cable channel.
While Moon Knight and Barry might seem like polar opposites, they have surprisingly similar premises that only goes
to show just how lackluster the Marvel series truly is when compared to actual good storytelling.
Barry vs. Moon Knight
Let’s start with some obvious similarities. Barry and Moon Knight both follow a man who was in the military and later became some sort of assassin. (Barry is a hitman, while Moon Knight dishes out violent justice for an ancient Egyptian god named Khonshu).
Both characters also struggle with mental trauma. Barry is clearly suffering from PTSD, which only seems worse at the start of the show’s third season. Meanwhile, Oscar Isaac’s Marvel superhero appears to suffer from dissociative identity disorder, leading him to live out multiple distinct personalities as both the mercenary Marc Spector and the nerdy Steven Grant (among others).
Finally, and perhaps most important, both Barry and Moon Knight are stories of redemption. In Season 3, Barry is determined to earn the forgiveness of his acting teacher Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) after murdering his girlfriend — even if he has no idea how to do it. In Moon Knight, Marc knows he’s racked up countless sins in service to Khonshu but believes the only way forward is to complete one last mission.
In other words, both Barry and Marc Spector want to be forgiven for their sins but have no ability to make that happen. And yet, while Moon Knight spent six hour-long episodes dragging its feet towards a hasty and unsatisfying resolution, Barry is already well on its way to delivering on the dilemma both shows face.
Why Barry beats Moon Knight
Barry’s greatest strength is its embrace of the absurd. By putting its characters in completely ridiculous situations, their very real emotional problems are forced into the open to be addressed. By comparison, Moon Knight is so concerned with creating a believable world for its comic book story of demons and gods that the actual humans barely have a chance to evolve and grow.
It takes five episodes for Marc Spector to make any sort of psychological breakthrough, while Bill Hader’s character goes through a bigger emotional arc in a single episode than Moon Knight managed in an entire season.
Beyond that, I have one more gripe. For a show billed as Marvel’s grittiest story yet, Moon Knight had a frustrating habit of cutting away whenever the action got too intense, using Marc’s mental blackouts as an excuse to jump forward and skip the bloodshed. The first time it happened, it was clever. The second time, it was played out. The fifth time, it was just annoying.
By comparison, Barry has never been afraid to show its violence point-blank. Of course, Moon Knight is a Marvel show on Disney+ with strict rating limits. But if Marvel can’t figure out a creative way to tell this type of story without resorting to cheap tricks, maybe it should leave the more serious topics to HBO and stick to kids' stuff instead.
Barry is available on HBO. Moon Knight is streaming on Disney+.