Yes, we’re just wild about Barry

Ter­rific new se­ries shows how HBO’s best dra­mas can have funny side

Regina Leader-Post - - YOU - HANK STUEVER

Barry Sun­days, HBO

Is a one-hour show al­ways sup­posed to be bur­dened with the heavy tone of drama? Is a halfhour show required to be even re­motely funny? Is a half-hour show star­ring Satur­day Night Live alum Bill Hader sup­posed to be more funny than it is dark?

Why does HBO put so much ef­fort into find­ing the per­fect one-hour drama (the quest for that elu­sive “next So­pra­nos” or “next Wire”), when some of its most mov­ing and ef­fec­tive dra­matic work is con­tained within its half-hour drame­dies? High Main­te­nance, In­se­cure, Get­ting On, En­light­ened, Veep.

Let me just declare how far over the moon I am about Barry, a funny, vi­o­lent, grip­ping and mas­ter­fully me­lan­choly halfhour show cre­ated by Hader and Sil­i­con Val­ley pro­ducer Alec Berg. From start to fin­ish, it’s just one hell of a show.

Hader, whose se­ri­ous act­ing skills were al­ready known to a few movie­go­ers (The Skele­ton Twins, any­one?), stars as Barry Berk­man, a for­mer marine liv­ing in the Mid­west, who has been roped into the hit man busi­ness by a cal­lously en­tre­pre­neur­ial rel­a­tive, Fuches (Stephen Root), who sends him out on jobs to kill peo­ple. Barry, who likely suf­fers some post-trau­matic stress from his com­bat time in Iraq, jus­ti­fies th­ese mur­ders as do­ing the world a small favour by get­ting rid of de­spi­ca­ble crim­i­nals. He’s highly skilled at the work and, for the most part, morally numb to it.

Fuches tries to cheer Barry up by giv­ing him a mid-win­ter as­sign­ment in sunny Los An­ge­les, where a Chechen crime lord named Go­ran Pazar (Glenn Flesh­ler), has dis­cov­ered his wife’s on­go­ing af­fair with her trainer, a dude named Ryan (Tyler Ja­cob Moore).

Barry reluc­tantly tracks his mark around L.A., even­tu­ally wind­ing up in Ryan’s act­ing class, which is taught by a small­time ac­tor and self-styled master thes­pian named Gene Cousineau (Henry Win­kler).

While ob­serv­ing the class, Barry is mis­taken for a prospec­tive stu­dent, and some­thing about the the­atre speaks to him. Could this be the call­ing he seeks?

If you’re think­ing of the re­cent se­ries adap­ta­tion of El­more Leonard’s Get Shorty, and is also about a hit man who goes to L.A. and catches the show­biz bug. Trust me, by the end of the first episode it won’t even mat­ter.

Barry is rich in all things — crime, vi­o­lence, Hol­ly­wood satire — and its story moves swiftly along with a nail-bit­ing de­gree of ten­sion, sort of a Break­ing Bad with 15 items or less.

The show also fea­tures an im­pres­sive sup­port­ing cast, start­ing with Win­kler’s de­li­ciously vain but sweetly pa­ter­nal per­for­mance as a guru who gen­uinely cares for his acolytes. At the cru­cial cen­tre of all this is Hader, who, as Barry, gives a per­for­mance that is more about bot­tled-up rage and re­straint than goof­ball an­tics.

None of it would be be­liev­able if Hader had not also taken a big leap to this other side of his con­sid­er­able ta­lent.

Whether you think it’s a com­edy or drama, it’s a sub­lime bit of act­ing.

HBO

Bill Hader, of Satur­day Night Live fame, de­liv­ers a bril­liant per­for­mance in Barry, a ter­rific new dram­edy that re­sists easy cat­e­go­riza­tion, about a hit­man who falls in love with act­ing.

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