Bill Hader is Barry. You recognize the actor, Bill Hader, right? He’s the guy from Saturday Night Live who does all the voices and most of the out-there characters like the breathlessly gay and overly descriptive club hopper Stefon, usually dominating a sketch alongside Kristen Wiig or Will Forte and always on the verge of breaking character.
But maybe you don’t know him as well as you think you do. Bill now stars as Barry in an HBO series by the same name. Yes, it’s a comedy, as you’d expect from looking at Hader’s IMDB page. But it’s one really dark comedy. Barry is a hitman, a guy who is pretty good at his job, which leaves him a bit detached from humanity: his own and pretty much anyone else, except his handler Fuches (Stephen Root). And he’s good with that. This is what he does for a living and there’s no denying he’s the best. But all it takes is one visit to Los Angeles to make him connect to a part of himself that he didn’t know existed anymore. Could this hitman become more vulnerable? Human? Even… an actor?
Don’t worry. This isn’t a case of Barry becoming star struck with all the glamour of Hollywood. Where he finds his new footing is pretty much on the opposite end of glamorous, where he unintentionally stumbles into an acting class while tracking his intended target. He’s suddenly thrust into a community that encourages each other despite their seeming mediocrity. Instead of being told he’s the best all of the time for doing the unthinkable, he’s mistaken for an actor. What follows isn’t pretty, but he’s in a room with people who have no idea who he really is and they’re not afraid of him. It’s probably the closest he’s been to real people without a weapon in his hand in a long time. He isn’t changed instantly, but he does become conflicted. He’s got a job to do and it would be unprofessional of him to not complete the mission, even if he’s now just become “scene partners” with the man he’s supposed to kill.
From that point on, things take odd turn after odd turn. There are moments of true emotional terror that you feel for some of the people on screen. You want things to go well for Barry, but then you remember who he is. Bill Hader deftly plays the straight man in all of this as his familiar world and this new world he’s curious about collide. You’d expect Hader to be the scene eater, the clown. He instead lets everyone else around him take big bites and chew away. Yet its his ability to stay reserved in the face of simple human interactions he doesn’t fully understand is what also makes him hilarious to watch as he squirms through every scene where is far out of his element, even though he chose to be.
Like shows that have come before where the good guy is the bad guy and vice versa, but you’re still expected to feel sympathy for him (Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy), Barry asks the same, except the absurdity of his circumstances is what makes this a comedy first and foremost, but not without an edge.
Even the main bad guys in the story, the Chechens, are played primarily for laughs, despite their role in the story. It seems everyone is a bit more in touch with their sensitive sides here in California. Even the underworld criminals. Anthony Carrigan plays NoHo Hank, who you might recognize as assassin Victor Zsasz from “Gotham”, is the comedic breakout actor in a show packed full of genuinely funny actors. Whenever he’s on screen, you can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say next. This is a man who is in love with his truly horrible life and career choices. Henry Winkler (Arrested Development, Happy Days) plays the self-absorbed and self-important acting coach is the teaching and acting equivalent of a bull in a china shop and makes no apologies. Stephen Root is Fuches, Barry’s handler, confidant, and stand-in father figure in a pinch. But he’s as bad of a father figure as Stephen Root (Office Space, Veep, King of the Hill) is so good in the role, which comes as no surprise to anyone who is a fan of Root’s long history of playing diverse, compelling characters in dramas and comedies. And then there’s relative newcomer Sarah Goldberg as Sally, who wavers between professional nievete and “the show must go on” moxy, which is probably one of the many reasons Barry is drawn to her.
To call “Barry” simply a comedy doesn’t do it justice, because there are enough compellingly dark turns in the story, and for the character of Barry himself, that takes this story into serious drama territory without either genre undermining the other. Without spoiling things, this is a show that makes you question your loyalty to Barry as a character sometimes, because the show eventually has to remind you that HE KILLS PEOPLE FOR A LIVING.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that “Barry” will and deservedly should get a lot of award nominations in the months to come, despite sneaking in under the radar on a premium network currently known primarily for its throne games and robot uprisings.
Thankfully, you can still get ahead of the curve when all of your other friends start talking about how good this show is (that they’ve never seen) starring that Stefon guy from SNL. All 8 episodes of “Barry” season 1 ARE AVAILABLE FOR DIGITAL DOWNLOAD NOW on all major streaming platforms.
Want to own the entire first season of Barry via digital download FREE? Follow @GeekForever on Twitter and keep an eye on our feed. We’ll be giving one digital download code away very soon, courtesy of the good people at HBO.