Yes, we’re just wild about Barry
Terrific new series shows how HBO’s best dramas can have funny side
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.
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.