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Josh Reviews Barry Seasons One and Two

July 8th, 2020
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Early on during our social isolation, my wife and I caught up with the HBO series Barry.  Bill Hader stars as the titular Barry, a former marine turned hitman who attempts to recreate himself after accidentally walking into an acting class and being mistaken as a prospective student.  The lonely Barry becomes enamored with the found family of wannabe actors he discovers in the acting class taught by Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler).  And he’s as surprised as anyone to discover that he actually has a modicum of skill at performing!  Suddenly Barry begins to envision a whole new life for himself.  But getting out of the hitman game doesn’t prove nearly as simple as Barry hopes it will be.

I was immediately taken by Barry, which was created by Mr. Hader and TV veteran Alec Berg (who wrote for Seinfeld and was an Executive Producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley).  Bill Hader has long since proven himself to me as a terrific actor, in such films as The Skeleton Twins and Trainwreck.  But he’s operating at a new level here, and he is magnificent as the central character on this show.  This is not a showy role.  Barry is an extremely buttoned-down, very internal character.  Mr. Hader has to convey a vast array of emotion without much movement or many big speeches, but he effortlessly allows the audience to engage with Barry’s struggles and journey.  There are a number of deeply emotional, dramatic moments on the show, and Mr. Hader nails every single one.  His comedic skills are also key here.  Most of the jokes on the show don’t involve any sort of standard set-up/punch-line; instead, the humor tends to come from the absurdity of the crazy situations that Barry finds himself in, and his deadpan reactions.  Mr. Hader never winks at the audience or allows a hint of playing a joke into his performance; this renders his performance very funny.  It’s a tight needle to thread but he nails it perfectly.  (I should also note that some of the best demonstrations of Mr. Hader’s acting abilities are the scenes in which we see that Barry is a bad actor.  A good actor convincingly acting badly is not as easy as you might think.  But Mr. Hader is so great, and so funny, in those moments!)

Tight needle to thread is a good way to describe the overall tone of the show.  This is a comedy that is about a character who has murdered people for a living, and who continues to murder people as the show goes on.  There are a million ways this could not work.  The show has to move from moments in … [continued]