If you’re looking for a few laughs and don’t mind a little gore here and there, check out HBO’s new dark comedy, “Barry”, starring SNL alum Bill Hader. With only a few episodes aired as of this writing, it’s not too late to catch up and jump on the bandwagon of what is shaping up to be a goofy hit.
The show features Hader as Barry Berkman, a former marine who, like Liam Neeson, has developed a unique set of skills over the years. Barry is so good at killing that he’s made a profession of it back on U.S. soil, and his handler Fuches (pronounces FEW-ks) works diligently to keep him employed as an A-list hit man. Stephen Root shines in his supporting role as Fuches, a charismatic and manipulative management/mentor type this time around (viewers will also appreciate and recognize him in the recent hit “Get Out” and for his past hilarious voice work as the animated and erratic Bill Dauterive, “King of the Hill”).
The rising action of the series occurs when Barry accepts a hit from the Chechen mob to take out the man who has been sleeping with the boss’s wife. What’s interesting is that for Barry, murder doesn’t seem to phase him. It’s akin to playing a video game or driving a taxi. He’s good at it, he does it, and life (his at least) goes on.
Unbeknownst to Barry, this one job will upend his bloody career trajectory. When he flies to Los Angeles, accepts the job, and follows his target, he quite accidentally stumbles into the man’s acting class and ends up reading lines opposite him despite not being an actor at all. The undeserved and sudden applause of the acting class flips a switch, and suddenly Barry wants to become an actor. As he is now friends with his target and delays the hit, the Chechens take matters into their own hands. Chaos ensues as Barry tries to balance new foes and his cloak and dagger lifestyle with coming out of his shell onstage and pursuing a young woman from his acting class. I have always found Bill Hader to be someone who just begs to be laughed at from his SNL days. As Barry, you find yourself enjoying him because how awkward he is fumbling onstage contrasts drastically with how lethal he can be offstage.
Special credit is also due to Henry Winkler who serves as the inscrutable and over the top acting teacher. He swings between being a capable drama coach who actually seems to know a thing or two about drawing emotions out of fledgling thespians and a horny old man. If anything, he is in part a truer version of Jean-Ralphio’s dad (see “Parks and Recreation”) than Dr. Saperstein ever was.
I know that the plot of “Barry” is a bit formulaic, which may turn off some more critical viewers. Like many other characters before him leading double lives, he will get into a series of hilarious high jinks as he tries to cover his tracks and balance his illegal occupation with his futile acting aspirations, with everything coming to a head in a spectacular fashion at some point. For me, watching it all unfold is a journey I’m willing to take. Where else can I see dim witted Chechen mobsters go toe to toe with a potential star who is being taught by The Fonz?