Last night, Barry debuted on HBO, it’s first of an eight episode season. Series lead Bill Hader directed the episode in addition to co-writing it with series co-creator Alec Berg (Silicon Valley). I will be going into spoiler territory here after this first paragraph so if you’re looking for a simple watch or don’t watch, this is definitely a show you’ll want to give a shot.
Barry (played by Bill Hader) is an ex-Marine who upon returning home from the war in Afghanistan finds himself depressed and lacking direction in life. He is approached by a friend of his father, a man he describes as being like an uncle to him about taking his skill set from the war and using it to make a living. Barry is persuaded to become a contract killer, killing people that he describes as bad guys. This first episode depicts exactly how depressed Barry has become several years into his career as a contract killer, simply going through the motions in life. A job in LA changes all of that for him.
In Los Angeles, Barry is introduced to what we can assume will become the regular cast. He’s been hired by some very deadly mobsters to kill an aspiring actor who was sleeping with one of the mobster’s wives. Barry follows his intended mark into an acting class and this is where everything changes for him. He winds up onstage (sharing a scene with his intended victim) and feels completely alive by the praise he receives. When he doesn’t kill the aspiring actor in time, the mobsters do, leading to a gun being pulled on Barry and Barry disposing of all 3 mobsters. We see exactly how lethal and proficient he is as a hit-man, yet in the scene that follows, Barry tells a waitress, an aspiring actress, that he’s an actor too and seems genuinely happy saying so.
Moving into the more analysis based portion of this review, the setup for the rest of this season is intriguing. The episode made it very clear that these mobsters were extremely dangerous and Barry killed 3 of them to end the episode. Despite this new life full of potential happiness and an escape from his depression at his fingertips, danger has to be right around the corner. There’s also the issue of 4 bodies in 2 cars being discovered by police as the episode ended. Viewers saw Barry reading the book written by his acting coach in the car he left behind at the scene of the crime, a book that he left in the car. Surely that will have police looking at the acting class for suspects. Also worth noting is that Barry used his real life story as his improv piece to impress his acting coach, brilliantly played by Henry Winkler. Will that be referenced as the investigation takes course?
Barry is by no means your traditional sitcom. It’s not laugh out loud funny; in fact a lot of the humor comes from how awkward Bill Hader plays his character Barry. There’s a lot more dramatic tension than you would expect from a 30 minute comedy. The show is dark – that much should be assumed just from knowing Barry’s profession but Hader’s portrayal of Barry’s depression felt very real. If the first episode told us anything, our emotions as viewers are going to be all over the place – laughing, feeling the danger and suspense with both the potential retaliation from the mobsters and obvious upcoming police investigation, embracing and feeling Barry’s hope for a new and better life with his new acting friends and then of course, more laughter. This felt like art that transcended genres and is absolutely something we need more of on television.
For further reading on Barry, please check out my interview with cast member John Pirruccello! John Pirruccello Discusses HBO’s Barry, What To Expect, Working with Bill Hader & Henry Winkler & More!