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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

‘Barry’ is not what you think


“Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader is hilarious and one of the best cast members in the famed NBC show’s recent history. His timing, ability to doing stellar impressions and inability to keep it together during sketches made him a favorite on the show. After leaving “SNL” in 2013, Hader continued to act in movies like “Sausage Party,” “Trainwreck” and “Inside Out.” In late 2016 it was announced that Hader had been given the green light to create a series for cable-giant HBO. It wasn’t until 2018 that audiences got a preview of what this new show would be about: a professional hitman who wants to enter the world of acting. With Hader as the lead and titular character Barry, the show was quickly perceived to be a comedy.

But to be clear, “Barry” is not a comedy.

Well, it’s not a comedy in a traditional or straightforward way. “Barry” is a comedy in the same way that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a comedy. By virtue of being written by writers with such keen senses of humor, each story is indelibly imbued with funny elements, but at their cores are serious plots. “Barry” is focused around a hitman and former United States Marine, Barry Berkman, suffering from PTSD, who falls in love with the Los Angeles acting scene after going undercover as an aspiring actor. The heart of the show is then Barry trying to balance his duties as a hitman with his love for the dramatic arts. Not really that funny of a premise and an unusual turn for Hader after such a lucrative comedic career.

This is Hader’s first foray into dramatic acting. In 2014, Hader starred in the tragicomedy “The Skeleton Twins” alongside former SNL castmate Kristen Wiig. In the film Wiig and Hader play siblings, both of whom suffer from depression and have attempted suicide. The movie also touches on themes of self-acceptance and the difficulties of dealing with family. Heavy stuff to be sure, but the flick finds ways to insert moments of levity and genuine comedy. Both Wiig and Hader give truly exceptional dramatic performances. A lot of the acting chops that Hader shows in this film clearly found their way into his performance as Barry.

So yes, “Barry” is a drama with storylines that involve international drug dealing, how to deal with past trauma, finding modes of self-expression, the troubles of friendship and love, what it means to be happy and what it means to be a good person. Along the way there are searing satirical looks at the delusional and aspirational world of actors hoping to make it big in Hollywood, the ineptitude of some members of law enforcement and the sham of many “successful” people in show business. So there are real laughs to be had with the main source of humor coming from the awesome and over-the-top performance of Henry Winkler, who plays a gimmicky acting teacher.

Comedy, drama or however people want to classify it, “Barry” is a refreshing show with a fun twist on the usual hitman storyline. Hader and the rest of the cast knock it out of the park and with the second season just starting, it’s as good as time as any to start watching.