HBO’s “Barry” contains all the elements of a promising comedy series. It has a strong lead in Bill Hader, an excellent supporting cast in Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg and Henry Winkler, and a funny premise: an ex-Marine hitman decides to pursue acting. Despite all this, there’s just something missing in “Barry.”
The first issue is the titular character. Bill Hader is one of the funnier actors working today, as evidenced by his “Saturday Night Live” tenure and his iconic role as Officer Slater in “Superbad,” but the character of Barry feels too underwritten and too milquetoast to deserve a comedic talent like Hader. Barry’s main characteristic is his passivity, everything that happens to him is either initiated by another character or just happens by accident. His mentor, Fuches, played by Stephen Root, micromanages Barry’s secret career as a hitman, trying to give his life direction and purpose.
That purpose, as it turns out, may be acting, as Barry discovers when he’s sent to an acting class in Los Angeles to off an aspiring thespian. Despite being a horribly unequipped actor, he somehow catches the bug, and makes the class a regular part of his week. There’s the push factor: his attractive classmate Sally (Goldberg), who takes an unexplained liking to Barry and brings him into her inner circle. Then, the pull: the teacher (Winkler), who seems to be the only one that appreciates the fact that Barry possesses absolutely no acting talent whatsoever.
It all makes for a fairly confusing situation. Barry, whose only real sympathetic quality is that he’s a veteran and he’s apparently depressed, goes from killing people to butchering dialogue without any serious impetus. It’s a foundational problem that hinders the show from building up any real emotional core.
Another problem is the chemistry, or lack thereof, between Barry and the love interest, Sally. It makes plenty of sense why Barry falls for Sally — she’s beautiful, charismatic and seems to actually love acting. It’s the reverse that doesn’t quite add up. Sally is attracted to Barry because … well, who knows, actually. He’s really just some quiet guy who stumbled into an acting class on his way to killing one of the students before getting pulled on stage to essentially ruin a scene. He doesn’t charm her, impress her or make her laugh. He really just goes along for the ride. Sally likes Barry, it seems, because she has to in order to move the plot forward.
Of course, this isn’t the prevailing opinion on “Barry” after the show’s first four episodes. The show is currently sitting at 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but it seems like every other show has a near-perfect rating these days, plus the fact that RT tends to be much harder on movies than television.
It feels like “Barry” might be getting the benefit of the doubt because it’s an HBO property. People tend to let the trademark HBO static color their opinion to some extent, thinking that the network that brought us “Band of Brothers” and “The Wire” couldn’t let us down.
That’s not to say that “Barry” is devoid of any redeeming qualities. The show does a good job of depicting what it’s like to be a struggling actor trying to make it big, and the HBO budget pays off with some incredible sequences, like the last few minutes of the pilot episode, and just about every scene involving Henry Winkler, who’s been starting to run away with the show.
“Barry” still deserves a chance to find its footing after four episodes, but it’s not quite the show critics have made it out to be.