The first thing I went to watch at SXSW this year was Barry, the newest show from Bill Hader and Alec Berg, coming to HBO. I always find hitman movies and shows draw my interest, and ones with a dark sense of humor, like The Whole Nine Yards are some of my favorites. So I was really interested to see how Bill Hader as a hitman that wants to be an actor turns out. Follow the article after the jump if you’re curious too!
We got to see the first 2 episodes of the show’s 8 episode run. We are quickly introduced to Barry (Hader) going from a complete job to his boring apartment and his apparently lackluster life. He works with Fuches (Stephen Root), who is like an uncle to him, but also is kind of an inept and cheap manager for his hits. To break things up in his monotony, and to make more money, Fuches sets Barry up with a hit in Las Angeles for the Chechen mob. Barry tracks his target into what turns out to be an acting class, and after getting dragged on stage he realizes he loves acting and the acting community so much that he wants to quit being a hitman. Things kinda spiral after that.
The first thing I have to say is I feel the characters are really rich and provide a lot of the best parts of the show. Hader plays Barry as a kinda dull, yet earnest, type and its his discomfort opening up and blunt honesty in awkward situations that spurs the story. Another favorite is Anthony Carrigan as NoHo Hank of the Chechen mob. He is a guy that, as Hader and Berg described it, went to prison and decided he wanted to be the most helpful, and as such he is always warm, supportive, and forthcoming. Even when being threatening. He honestly is one of the funniest characters. The two biggest characters from the acting class are its teacher Cousineau (Henry Winkler) and Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg). Cousineau is a moderately successful actor trying to turn a profit and ride the curtails of his old fame with this class, and Winkler brings a great bit of comedic timing and occasional heart to it. I will say he is the character I look forward to being deepened as we only get a bit from him. Sally on the other hand is a real optimist who is dedicated to acting, even to the uncomfortable degree of wanting to perform a scene from Doubt at a wake just because its acting. Goldberg brings a great kind of neurotic LA vibe to the character as she seems to both be very concerned about helping make acting important to everyone but also to be the acting group’s leader. Lastly I have to say I wasn’t fully sold on Stephen Root’s character Fuches. I always love Root, but here his character seems manipulative and kind of just useless to the point where he’s just a weakness for Barry that doesn’t seem needed. I hope he is expanded more.
Overall, I think the two episodes were solid enough, but definitely with their share of flaws. I think there are some fantastic moments with the goofiness of the Chechens, as well as the earnest dorkiness of the acting class. I also like Hader’s performance and showing of his conflicting feelings about his old life and his attempts to grow into this new one. But there are also times where it feels like the show doesn’t know what it wants to do with that balance and at times feels like it makes the characters betray themselves a bit for it. For instance, Barry seems smart, but after he learns the Chechens are not trusting him, he doesn’t go talk to them and work it out when they already seemed friendly, he just keeps doing what he’s doing until it inevitably escalated. It wasn’t enough to turn me off of the show, but does make me a little concerned that it won’t pick itself up from that slump in it’s relatively short season.
Barry has a lot of potential from a great creative team and cast. Sadly it is marred by some scenes and lot contrivances that feel manufactured to further plot. Its still worth checking out to see if it is for you, and I will certainly look forward to checking out the rest of the series to see if it can succeed.