There are many good things to say about Barry, Bill Hader’s new half-hour show for HBO, and perhaps the best of them is this: It’s not really like anything else on TV. Barry combines pitch-black comedy with an even darker drama about a hitman trying to make a clean break from his past. And while that premise—man unravels as he reckons with the violence he’s caused—is familiar, Hader and his team of writers and directors (including Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Alec Berg, Atlanta’s Hiro Murai, and stand-up comedian Emily Heller) have tapped into a subtly funny vein of melancholy. The result is something promising and challenging.
Be warned: Barry’s eight episodes get off to a slow start. Hader doesn’t provide any of the comic fireworks or vocal gymnastics you’d expect from the versatile SNL vet; instead, his Barry is reactive and depressed, stone-faced and silent as he absorbs what’s going on around him. The supporting cast provides the broader strokes: Henry Winkler is, unsurprisingly, excellent as the egocentric teacher of the acting class Barry enrolls in to follow his next target; Stephen Root plays Barry’s money-hungry boss; Sarah Goldberg is terrific as a talented but self-centered acting student; and Paula Newsome plays a detective whose scenes with an amorous Winkler provide some of the show’s best moments.
But while Barry is awfully funny at times, it’s mostly a deliberately slow, even serious character study of a very troubled person, with Hader’s natural charisma intentionally dampened. The suspense picks up in the last couple of episodes, but for a show that’s about a gun-toting hitman and a class full of struggling actors, Barry demonstrates something entirely unexpected: restraint.Barry premieres Sun March 25 on HBO. The first two episodes will screen at Cinema 21 on Thurs March 22, with Henry Winkler in attendance.