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TV Review: Barry

Barry, HBO, Comedy, Drama, Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, TV Review

SYNOPSIS: BARRY is a dark comedy starring Bill Hader as a depressed, low-rent hitman from the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied in his life, he reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to execute a hit on an aspiring actor. Barry follows his “mark” into an acting class and ends up finding an accepting community in a group of eager hopefuls within the LA theater scene. Barry wants to start a new life as an actor but his criminal past won’t let him walk away -- can he find a way to balance both worlds? 

Barry, HBO, Comedy, Drama, Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, TV Review

REVIEW: Saturday Night Live veterans have found mixed success on the big screen over the years, but have been consistently good on the small screen. They especially thrive when they produce projects that are a bit outside the box. From Fred Armisen with Portlandia to Will Forte's brilliantly underappreciated The Last Man on Earth, these comedic performers have found a way to let their own voices shine via the extended format of a television series. Next up is Bill Hader with the HBO series Barry set to premiere on March 27th. Barry sounds like the type of plot you would expect from an indepenent film playing at a festival like Sundance or TIFF. With the episodes mainly written by Hader and several of the episodes directed by him, Barry is a passion project with roots from his days on SNL. Like the aforementioned series from his fellow SNL actors, Barry is definitely not for everyone but it is a very entertaining project nonetheless.

Barry is filmed in a very bland palette that mimics the boring lifestyle of Barry Berkman, a former Marine and veteran of engagements in the Middle East. With nowhere to go in his life after returning from overseas, he is recruited by his father's friend Fuches (the always reliable Stephen Root) to work as a hitman. Travelling around the Midwest and killing scumbags, Barry finds himself still in the same funk as before he started assassinating people. Fuches suggests taking a job for the Chechen mob in Los Angeles for a change of scenery. Trailing his mark, Barry stumbles onto an acting class led by failed actor Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). He also meets aspiring actress Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) and a troupe of wannabee stars. Barry immediately becomes smitten with the idea of becoming an actor even at the cost of not performing his contracted hit. What follows is the growth of a man with no purpose into one who has to balance two totally disparate paths in his life while still evading the Chechen mob, the police, and his own dreams.

Bill Hader has always been known for his manic impressions and broad personality, but with Barry his performance is much more subtle and nuanced and recalls his great turn in the indie film THE SKELETON TWINS alongside Kristen Wiig. Hader plays Barry as a man who wants to be an actor but cannot deliver the confidence needed to let himself become another person. It is only in the shocking and abrupt sequences of assassinations and murders performed by Barry that we see him truly come alive. It is a jarring and dark dichotomy with what Barry says he wants his life to be versus what he is truly good at doing. Barry is a very dark show but it has so many moments of levity and brightness that you sometimes feel weird about laughing at what is happening on screen. The show also rarely breaks into a laugh out loud type of comedy, instead relying on awkwardness and bizarre situations to evoke humor. Pretty much all of the acting class scenes are uncomfortably hilarious and that is a testament to the supporting cast.

Henry Winkler, once the Fonz and now a mainstay of awkward roles, does a great job as the tyrannical acting teacher Gene Cousineau who serves as a mentor to Barry while we see that he is not much better of a performer himself. Winkler has a charm here, especially in scenes where he tries to seduce Detective Moss (Paula Newsome). Stephen Root is also great as Barry's handler who may be in over his head as well. No one here really seems to be very good at their jobs which adds to elements of hilarity throughout the series. You would expect the members of the Chechen mob to be more adept at their jobs, but recognizable character actors Glenn Fleschler (True Detective) and Anthony Carrigan (Mr. Zsaz on Gotham) are just as bumbling as everyone else. 

Barry, HBO, Comedy, Drama, Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Henry Winkler, TV Review

The biggest issue I had with Barry was the uneven tone of the show. When it wants to be funny, it is pretty funny and when it wants to be serious it does a pretty good job of that as well. But there are moments where Barry, who constantly professes how much he wants to be an actor, just cannot seem to do it. Then, as much as he claims he doesn't want to be a hitman any longer, his most natural and adept moments are tracking and murdering his targets. Switching between Barry being very good and then very bad at totally different paths in his life is the crux of the story Bill Hader aimed to tell, but it doesn't quite work with the over the top personalities that populate the rest of the cast. And yet, I could not help but binge through the first four episodes which were provided for review.

Barry likely would have worked well as a feature film, slimmed down to one ninety minute feature. Having watched half of the first season, there is clearly plenty of story left to tell but I am not sure how much further beyond one season this show could go. I am hopefully very wrong about that as Bill Hader is a welcome presence to see on an episodic and regular basis. His portrayal of Barry will definitely resonate with some and his triple duty here as actor, writer, and director may be signalling a multi-faceted talent for projects on televison and even the big screen. I have heard good things about the very different half of Barry's first (and possibly only) season, so I will be definitely tuning in to see how the story concludes.

Barry debuts it's eight episode first season on HBO starting March 27th.

Source: JoBlo.com

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