The lucky few who get a new platform post Saturday Night Live, tend go one of two ways: Bank their career on playing a character type (Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Fred Armisen) or be the fish that’s out of water (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Andy Samberg). It’s shocking that Bill Hader’s Barry is the first star vehicle to have both simultaneously well done.
The logline is that Barry Berkman is a Midwestern hitman who catches the acting bug while on a job in Los Angeles. The actor lifestyle bits are obvious and pinpoint accurate while the hitman aspect breaks up the navel gazing. Those two form a powerful third rail.
Barry highlights the human element of people desperately trying to be something that they (maybe) can’t be. The subtextual emotional contortions of fitting a mold to ultimately happy is the blend of drama and comedy that is pure television umami.
Hader’s role is bespoke as it should be; he’s the writer and director of the pilot. Credit to him for turning in a well-crafted debut on paper and behind the camera. Sure, Alec Berg (Seinfeld, Silicon Valley) has a huge hand in the development but Hader’s previous life as an editor serves him well. There’s a deft touch on when to go in for the closeup. The moment when the acting bug bites, the glances between two people that could be something but also nothing, is played.
Sarah Goldberg is the real killer here. The pivotal scene study scene is workmanlike precise. Henry Winkler hits a new gear as acting teacher, Gene Cousineau. The seemingly effortless toggling of emotion between the duo is a legitimate clinic on scene study itself. Stephen Roots (Fuches) fits that mold as well. As his handler, Fuches is whatever he needs to be to get Barry to do whatever he wants.
Aside from the Chechnian mobsters who are walking stereotypes and exposition fillers, this is the most solid pilot I’ve seen in years. Especially for a comedy.
The moments of truth that offset the actor/hitman storyline offer many surprises. Barry’s day-to-day killing is no different than the viewers’ more traditional 9-5 killing theme. And it’s funny. The emotional mapping that zigs into drama rather than playing the comedy aspect of it is brilliant.
“Barry” is your newest required viewing.