With two acting Emmys under its belt and season two well under production, Bill Hader and Alec Berg’s “Barry” looks to be a promising addition to HBO’s ever-growing roster of quality television. Sitting down to view the show, it becomes easy to see why.
Hader stars as the titular Barry Berkman, an ex-Marine-turned-hitman. While trying to take down one of his targets, Barry finds himself crossing paths with an acting class and becomes instantly entranced by the possibilities acting presents. Determined to forego his life of crime and make it big time, Barry soon learns that leaving his job as an assassin is not as easy as he hoped it would be.
Though the show’s concept is somewhat outlandish, “Barry” manages to take its central idea and tell a well-conceived and nuanced story about a troubled man trying to find a life worth living. We constantly get to see Barry dream and work for a better life, only to be struck down by the bitter reality that he can’t leave behind his life of murder. “Barry” does an excellent job of portraying just how desperate its central character is to escape from the mess he made for himself, all while never ignoring the gravity of a hard decision the protagonist has to make in order to further himself from his ways as an assassin.
"Rather than be hindered by this drastic difference between its comedic and dramatic elements, the show thrives upon it."
None of this is to say that “Barry” shies away from comedy, as even in the show’s darkest moments the series never forgets to crack a joke and lighten the mood when circumstances become a little too dour and hard to stomach. Rather than be hindered by this drastic difference between its comedic and dramatic elements, the show thrives upon it. “Barry” is regularly able to present serious questions about the troubled psyche of its star, yet it manages to balance these propositions with humor in such a way that you always want to watch another episode.
Props have to be given to Hader for his spectacular performance throughout the series. On one side, he plays a socially awkward man who can never quite fit in with his peers. On the other, he plays a complicated yet sympathetic assassin forced into a life that — as he recently realized — he never wanted, making questionable decisions in the name of attaining happiness. Hader effortlessly acts out these two personas, presenting a character who can goofily stumble his way through a conversation one minute, and the next, gut-wrenchingly deal with the consequences of his actions. Either way, Hader is a constantly enjoyable presence on “Barry,” and he undoubtedly earned his Emmy for this show.
Credit should also be given to Henry Winkler for his role as Barry’s acting teacher, Gene Cousineau. Despite not giving as deep of a performance as Hader, Winkler provides a humorous charm to the show that serves as a nice counterbalance when Hader’s Barry gets more serious. It’s a role well-suited for Winkler, and is another well-deserved Emmy for the show.
In spite of the show’s great elements, “Barry” is not without its flaws. Most notably, many of its side characters come off as one-dimensional, and they are never developed beyond the basic caricatures we meet during the show’s pilot.
For instance, when we first meet Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg) she’s depicted as a dedicated actress who will stop at nothing to make it in the industry. Though Goldberg certainly has moments of great acting, the character is never expanded beyond this. Despite being a relatively major character, every action Sally makes never progresses past this initial depiction. This lack of character development with the exception of Barry himself is a chief problem of the show, one that will hopefully be remedied in upcoming seasons.
"Though the show may struggle with developing some of its characters, it still manages to take the spotlight thanks to strong acting and a captivating story."
Though the show may struggle with developing some of its characters, it still manages to take the spotlight thanks to strong acting and a captivating story. Ultimately, “Barry” is a fantastic series I highly recommend to anyone looking for something new to watch.
Final Grade: A-
Joseph Marz is a TV columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.