Saturday Night Live veteran Bill Hader shines in the dark comedy, Barry, airing on HBO. The role is a stark difference from what fans are used to seeing of Hader during his years on the long-running NBC sketch comedy show.
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), is working as a hitman, where he’s being handled by Fuches (Stephen Root). When the tender Chechen kingpin Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) and right-hand man NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) decide to hire Barry to kill Ryan Madison (Tyler Jacob Moore) after they caught having an affair with Pazar’s wife. It’s business as usual for the Midwestern hit man up until he follows Ryan into an acting class.
It’s at the class where Barry meets Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) and acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), author of Hit Your Mark and Say Your Lines. The beloved Cousineau gives him the first class as a free audit but if he expects to go forward, he’s going to need to prepare a monologue and pay for the class. The class opens up Barry to a whole new world and he quickly finds himself immersed into this new acting community. In doing so, Barry rethinks his entire life and wonders if acting rather than killing people for a living is where he should take his life. In typical Hollywood fashion, Berkman changes his name as soon as he discovers a love for acting to the better-flowing Barry Block.
With his change of heart, the Chechens decide to take it upon themselves in order to get the job done. By the end of the first episode, Ryan is dead and it’s a tragic event that will loom over the entire season, not just for Barry but also Detective Moss (Paula Newsome). Ryan’s death hits everyone in their own ways and how they cope is different from each other. For Barry, it sets him on a journey to become a better person.
There are some very funny moments in which the comedic hilarity of the situation plays against the thriller aspects of the series. In the second episode, which premiered at SXSW in March, Barry is seen standing outside of the balcony on his phone while the Chechens are in the hotel room beating up Fuches. It’s such a funny scene in this regard knowing that he can’t even hear what is happening in the hotel room! Throughout the entire season, the camera moves in a way that plays up the mystery and suspense of the moment.
Hader plays against type with his performance in the lead role. One may be used to seeing him go for laughs on Saturday Night Live but with Barry, Hader proves that there’s more to him than Stefon or being the man of a thousand voices. It’s on display during the smallest of moments or just the brief gesture in body movements. The character is one that allows for Hader to display his full range during the comedic, dramatic, and thrilling moments of the HBO series.
In addition to Hader and Winkler’s perfornances, one of the best things to enjoy about Barry is a breakout performance from Canadian actress Sarah Goldberg. Goldberg and Hader have great chemistry during the first season. It’s enough of a breakout performance to want to see more of Goldberg not only in Barry but in whatever projects she appears in going forward.
With The Good Place‘s D’Arcy Carden playing an acting student, Natalie, one can’t help but wonder if maybe Barry is a part of the extended Good Place universe. In all seriousness though, Carden’s performance shows that there’s a lot more to her range than just playing Janet on the Mike Schur-created series.
What Alec Berg and Bill Hader have done is given us a character who is fully-developed and one who viewers can look forward to watching on television. They could have very easily developed the character for a movie but it’s one who works best in a television series.
Created by: Alec Berg & Bill Hader
Cast: Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Glen Fleshler, Anthony Carrigan, Henry Winkler
Barry airs Sunday nights on HBO at 10:30 PM ET/PT. The first two episodes premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival as a part of the Episodic program.