Barry Review: HBO’s New Dark Comedy is a “Hit”

by: Chris Thompson

On Thursday, Across the Margin caught a sneak peak of the first two episodes of HBO’s new dark comedy Barry, about a reluctant hitman who’s caught the acting bug. Starring Saturday Night Live fixture Bill Hader, the show is as funny as it is dark and satisfying….

HBO Barry Bill Hader

“It’s this idea where the thing you’re really good at is destroying you, and the thing you wanna be good at, you’re terrible at.”  -Bill Hader

In Barry, a hilarious dark comedy set to premiere this Sunday on HBO, we get to see a different side of former Saturday Night Live funny-man Bill Hader. Playing the lead role of Barry Berkman, a disillusioned former Marine turned hitman, Hader flexes acting muscles not previously seen, treating viewers to a television show that is one part comedy and one part crime drama. It is where those two dissimilar parts collide, where the life of a sad-sack, weirdo assassin living in the Midwest and the lives of a ragtag group of Los Angeles “actors,” duped into paying for acting classes they think will make them great, that the magic and intrigue of Barry resides.

Created by Hader, (its star, director and producer) and the prolific screenwriter Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Silicon Valley), Barry has fun toying with the idea of: what if a hitman walked into an acting class? The show feels a lot like a salvation story, where the low-rent assassin Barry suddenly finds himself woke to the idea that he has been missing his calling. After a reluctant trip to Los Angeles for a hit, and a chance encounter during a routine surveillance of a mark finds him suddenly acting out a scene from the Quentin Tarantino penned film True Romance, it is clear that Barry is forever going to be a changed man. However, that is merely the starting point for a show that, while heavy on the violence (think John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank), finds a way to pull you into the more human side of Barry, and into the conflicted man struggling to understand his place in the world and the ways in which happiness, contentment, and overall well being have eluded him.

From the get go, it’s apparent that you want to like Barry, and even understand his misfortune, despite his heinous crimes. One gets a sense of his characters struggles: his utter distaste for killing, the ways in which his handler Fuches (played skillfully by Stephen Root) shows just how amateur he is at assisting Barry in his jobs, the monotony of his Midwestern existence, and the loneliness and dissatisfaction that Barry often feels. The show does an excellent job of depicting both sides of the hitman Barry’s life, from the meeting of clients, to the surveillance of marks, to the murder’s and then everything that follows after, the dejection, the depression, the sadness and the walling off of oneself from both feelings and the outside world. This honest depiction is one part where the show really shines, and the ways in which it finds comedic opportunities, albeit dark, to make the audience laugh throughout all this character turmoil is a real credit to Barry’s writing, directing and acting.

Without giving too much away, you get a sense that Bill Hader’s character Barry is keen to find acceptance in a place far away from his duties as an assassin. His biggest problem to date has been that he’s stuck, with no real way to facilitate his next move. However, his travels to Los Angeles for a contract killing initiated by a group of oft-times hilarious Chechen mobsters ultimately provides both a catalyst and a backdrop for what Barry sees as a way out of his life of murder and misfortune. Finding acceptance may not be as far away as it seems for Barry, and what makes it even better, is the fact that he may have not only finally found his place in the world, but also a singular purpose: to be an actor. But to get to that place, he still has to kill a few more people….

HBO’s new show Barry premieres this Sunday, March 25th at 10:30pm (HBO West). It’s a deeply satisfying, dark, funny and oft times outrageous comedy and a surprising must see. We here at Across the Margin were thoroughly impressed and look forward to its premier.


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