Bill Hader kills in HBO’s dark ‘Barry’

In a recent GQ profile on Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader, contemporary and close friend Fred Armisen said that “on-screen, his funniest moments are when he’s staring. Something about him with a serious look on his face makes me laugh.” Fortunately, in the darkly hilarious Barry, the brainchild of Hader and Silicon Valley showrunner Alec Berg, there are plenty of starring moments for Hader as the title character, a hit man in desperate need to focus. Because he’s wearied of, you know, killing people.

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The show stars Hader as a depressed former Marine turned contract killer. Awakened by his family friend/employer/agent of sorts Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), he’s given an assignment in Los Angeles: the bidding of Chechen mobster NoHo Hank (the always-amusing Anthony Carrigan). Hank’s friend wants a personal trainer called Ryan knocked off for “working out” his wife. Barry, however, finds an opportunity on the job in following his future kill around to an acting class in the Valley. After discovering Sally (Hindsight‘s Sarah Goldberg), a deadpan Barry quickly finds himself onstage with Ryan to ridiculously act out a scene from True Romance. He immediately becomes another version of Barry, locating his tribe and new, therapeutic centering.

Barry meets his new teacher, Gene (Henry Winkler, in a substantial role) and the show takes off. There’s a fantastic monologue—unintentional from Barry’s standpoint—where he directly informs Gene (who believes it’s an act) about his real profession and post-war depression. Shortly after, he’s prepared to kill Ryan and move on with his life, but there’s a dark twist.

Here, a tricky exchange defines the Hader-helmed series. After running into a Chechen assassin, Barry relapses. A viewer could be left shocked by Barry’s readiness to kill. However, one finds subtle comedy in a quick look back at the set-up that involved a so-called “assassin” with a long-range, high-caliber weapon, sitting on top of an old BMW sedan, on a well-lit street, less than 100 feet away from his target.

In the diner around the corner, in typically L.A. fashion, the waitress states to him she’s an actor. He responds that he is too, with a quick smile.

It’s a near-perfect pilot that sets up a talented killer stuck in the secretiveness of a dirty profession but reaching toward his pure need for authentic connection. Barry shows tremendous promise as a coming-out party for Hader’s hidden talents as an actor, writer, and director.

Still not sure what to watch on HBO? Here are the best movies on HBO, the best HBO documentaries, and what’s new on HBO Go this month.

Kahron Spearman

Kahron Spearman

Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.