Grab your popcorn — this weekend marks the double end of an era for two of the biggest dramedies on television.
Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” returns for its fifth and final season on Friday, while HBO’s “Barry” returns for its fourth and final season on Sunday, building to their respective series finales on May 26 and May 28.
Here’s a primer for both with plot details from previous seasons, but no spoilers for the upcoming final seasons:
‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” premiered on Amazon Prime Video on March 17, 2017. Set in the late 1950s, the series follows New York housewife Miriam “Midge” Maisel, who discovers a surprise knack for stand-up comedy and decides to make it her career, exploring 20th century gender dynamics.
I still remember when season one debuted. Believe it or not, the ability to stream original TV series only started in 2013, so Amazon had just gotten into the streaming game with “Transparent” (2014), “Mozart in the Jungle” (2014), “Bosch” (2015) and “Sneaky Pete” (2015). When the phenomenal “Mrs. Maisel” pilot premiered in March, we couldn’t wait for the remaining seven episodes to drop all at once in November for our next binge craze.
In 2018, “Maisel” became the first streaming series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, ending a run of three straight victories by HBO’s “Veep.” It never returned to the top of the Emmy mountain, giving way to “Fleabag” in 2019, “Schitt’s Creek” in 2020 and “Ted Lasso” in both 2021 and 2022, but its legacy was already enshrined. The record was already its to cherish as it became the answer to trivia questions for decades to come.
After her breakthrough role as the ill-fated prostitute Rachel Posner on Netflix’s “House of Cards” (2013-2015), actress Rachel Brosnahan found an all-timer part as Midge, winning the Emmy for Best Actress in 2018 to end a streak of six straight victories by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep.” Brosnahan also won back to back Golden Globes in 2018 and 2019, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award in 2019, meaning she was officially a made woman.
Equally acclaimed was Alex Borstein, who won back to back Emmys in 2018 and 2019 as Midge’s wisecracking manager Susie Myerson at The Gaslight Cafe, while Tony Shalhoub won in 2019 as Midge’s father Abe Weissman and Luke Kirby won in 2019 as Lenny Bruce. The rest of the cast, including Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle, Kevin Pollak, Caroline Aaron and Jane Lynch, together celebrated Best Comedy Ensemble at the SAG Awards twice.
The series scrapped its binge-all-at-once model last season, leaving fans wanting more by dropping two episodes at a time. The season four finale “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” saw Midge turn down Lenny’s offer to replace him as Tony Bennett’s opener at the Copacabana, staggering out into a blizzard to see a billboard reading “Go Forward,” then blinking to instead read “The Gordon Ford Show.” May she break a leg in season five.
Created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, “Barry” premiered on HBO on March 25, 2018, following an ex-Marine turned ruthless hitman who suddenly pursues a Hollywood career after stumbling into an L.A. acting class. It was instantly one of the most unique genre-bending shows I’ve ever seen, balancing comedy and drama with flashes of horror (that wild little girl scaling walls in season two) and action flicks (that motorcycle chase in season three).
After hilarious sketches on “Saturday Night Live” (2005-2013) and comedy movies like “Trainwreck” (2015), Hader found his most complex role as Barry Berkman, also known as Barry Block, juggling his newfound creative dreams against lingering impulses for bloodlust. He deservedly won the Emmy for Best Comedy Actor in both 2018 and 2019 before losing to Jason Sudeikis of “Ted Lasso” in 2022 after “Barry” returned from its pandemic hiatus.
The supporting cast is a delight, including Stephen Root as Barry’s hitman mentor Monroe Fuches and Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend Sally Reed. The most laugh-out-loud character is the eternally optimistic NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), a member of the Chechen mafia who was so damn funny with zingers in the early seasons that the writers couldn’t help but expand his character to date Cristobal, the leader of the Bolivian mob.
Of course, the biggest casting coup is the comeback story of Henry Winkler, who refused to be typecast as The Fonz in “Happy Days” by creating arguably his career-best role as acting teacher Gene Cousineau, earning three Emmy nominations and winning Best Supporting Actor in 2018. Winkler crafts an adorable character trying to rebuild his washed-up Hollywood career by building new proverbial trusses on bridges that he burned years ago.
Gene’s relationship with Barry is the heartbeat of the show, evolving from proud teacher to grief-stricken revenge. Remember, season one ended with a thrilling scene at Gene’s lake house as his lover, Detective Janice Moss, was killed by Barry for nearly uncovering his crimes. Despite Barry’s attempt to plant Hank’s Chechen pin on her body, season two saw his plan unravel as Fuches whispered in Gene’s ear that Barry indeed killed Janice.
Season three saw Barry plunge into darkness, from violent outbursts toward Sally, who is losing patience on the set of her semi-autobiographical TV series “Joplin,” to desperately uttering a teary-eyed “I love you” to Gene on the couch as a pack of dogs randomly ran outside. It all built to a masterful season three finale as Gene set up Barry to be arrested with the help of Janice’s father Jim Moss (Robert Wisdom, Bunny Colvin in “The Wire”).
I urge everyone to go back and watch the final shot of last season, noting how the camera intentionally holds on its widescreen composition, featuring symbolic elements within the frame. You’d think that it was the high art of a prestige drama like “The Sopranos,” but instead it’s a half-hour comedy that can simultaneously appeal to the most lowbrow among us. I can’t wait for Sunday to hear those wailing horns to start the show. May Barry find peace.