Previously published in The Daily Star of Hammond, Louisiana.
If you’re anything like me, the sheer number of TV shows available in the age of streaming and peak-TV makes it more difficult to find a show to watch than it was when I was a kid flipping through channels.
There’s so much television that I get paralyzed by the number of choices. It’s like the problem Syndrome, the villain from “The Incredibles,” brings up, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” There are so many shows that it’s hard for me to discern what’s good and bad without watching several episodes of a show before I either get invested or become frustrated I’ve wasted several hours on a bad show.
That’s what makes HBO’s new show, “Barry,” which aired its pilot on Sunday, March 25. The show appears to be focused on whether it’s better to do what you love or do what you’re good at. That’s the primary question driving HBO’s newest show, “Barry,” starring Bill Hader who also wrote some of the show and directed the first three episodes.
“Barry” showcases the kind of acting ability Hader most people aren’t aware he possesses, but he showcased his acting chops in the indie-flick, “Skeleton Twins.” The new show is more of a dramedy than a laugh-out-loud comedy. Instead of Hader going over the top with an outlandish personality like his famous Stefon character on SNL, he plays a veteran Marine that became a low-level hitman after struggling to acclimate to civilian life after a tour in Afghanistan.
The comedy has been smart and in the smaller parts of life that makes the audience feel like, “That’s happened to me, or I’ve always thought that in the background but never said it out loud.” For example, Hader’s character, Barry, is sleeping in a middle seat on a plane and the guy in the window seat decides to open the window shutter to let the bright white light from the clouds wake him so he can stare out into the white, nothingness.
There’s nothing to look at when flying through white clouds! But Barry just seems off-put and resigns himself to a dull life until he unwittingly winds up acting out a scene with one his targets in front of a community center acting class in Los Angeles. After the class cheers for him, he decides he may want to be an actor instead of a killer for hire.
While that premise sounds ridiculous, Hader plays the role completely straight like everything is normal because the job is normal to Barry. At one point when describing his occupation to the acting coach (Henry Winkler who’s playing an acting coach that’s taking advantage of his students and appears to be no better of an actor than them, but Winkler is having a blast in his performance) says, “You know what I’m good at? Killing people. It’s a job. It pays well.” Then he goes on to talk about why he got into the job and at the end of the monologue, Winkler in true L.A. acting fashion assumes it was a rehearsed bit or improvisation and says, “We’ll need to work on the story since but there’s something there.”
The show excels in flipping the important parts of a show about a hitman on its head by making the scenes where Barry is trying to act the parts with the most drama and tension even though the stakes are relatively low compared to his other job. On the other hand, his career as a hitman looks mundane, and the action isn’t glorified in the least bit.
At one point someone tries to kill him, and he merely says, “Don’t point that gun at me, man.” He doesn’t shout it or look angry or scared, it feels like a boss telling an employee, “always use a paper clip; don’t staple your budget reports together.” Then, Barry disposes of three people trying to get rid of him so quickly I had to rewind it to make sure it actually happened. Then he walks to a diner to drink some herbal tea.
The pilot of this show immediately sucked me in, grabbing me by the collar and screamed, “This is a show you can get into,” which is rare in the streaming age when showrunners get the full season’s deal and don’t have to worry about the metrics as much. That usually leads to people saying “[Insert semi-prestige drama here] is great, you just have to get to episode four for it to get good.” That’s always frustrated me because a good story should grab me immediately and not take two to four hours to “get good.” Barry is a quick 30-minute show that’s pilot immediately should grab most audiences, making them laugh, stimulating their minds and forcing them to consider being good at something or loving what you do is most important.