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For the Peak TV run we've been on lately, and the way things have risen more towards dramatic fare for obvious reasons, comedic shows have had their own rebirth the last few years. And in HBO's Barry, we get a dark comedy with a strong ensemble. When the Emmys were rolling in September and the show earned trophies for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, I couldn't help but think "damn right," because its unique voice is one worth experiencing.
SNL vet Bill Hader plays the eponymous character Barry, a loner who went through a combat tour in Iraq and, upon his discharge from the Army, was welcomed by Fuches (Stephen Root, Get Out), a mentor who turned Barry into a hitman and Fuches was his handler. The pair became tired of doing jobs in the Midwest and moved to California to do a hit for some Chechen criminal underworld types. The guy Barry is supposed to kill is an aspiring actor, and in the midst of doing recon on the target, runs into the acting class the actor attends. He meets the teacher Gene (Henry Winkler, Here Comes the Boom) and starts to have feelings for Sally (Sarah Goldberg), the most talented of the motley crew. Barry starts to like the class and wants to become an actor, forsaking his hitman life in the process, to Fuches' objections. And so he tries to balance both as best he can.
As Barry, Hader leans towards the expressionless because he's not entirely sure how to react to some of the acting classmates, who in their own right have various different quirks, and their quirks prove to have great laughs. Barry's connection to the Chechens is Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who is the younger family member of the main Chechen boss. He decorates his texts on assassinations with frequent emojis and tries to smooth emotions out, and Corrigan's performance is a nice surprise for the show. Goldberg's work is also a pleasant surprise, in that Sally shows the difficulties of trying to get a big break in acting, and perhaps wondering at times if it's still something she should be doing. While there's an isolation of sorts with Hader, Sally's arc is well-done for Barry.
Winkler's turn as Gene is superb. Gene is a guy who expects applause from his students, has written a book on acting, but there's a poignant moment when we see that he's just like many of his other students, but where many of them would presumably have stopped pursuing this dream, he keeps going with it. In a way it's kind of sad, but it generally doesn't deter him. When he immediately flirts with a police detective (Paula Newsome, Little Miss Sunshine) who is investigating the murder of the same person in his class that Barry is charged to kill, Gene does so with a confidence that he shouldn't have, but does. The detective is enamored with it also, which makes their scenes together all the more hilarious.
The show is Hader's to do the work with and he handles himself as you'd expect in the comedic scenes and as the show evolves in the latter two to three episodes, the emotional load is something he's able to handle. Barry is a guy who wants to leave his hitman job behind because he finds something he can be anonymous in with acting (without the gunplay), and tries to cut off the jobs as much as he can, and leaving Barry the hitman for Barry the actor isn't just a switch to flip. As a side note, I'd always thought Hader was a little too, I don't know, wiry or awkward for the role of a hitman, but he remains believable throughout. Seeing Winker and Hader take awards for their work is more than deserved.
I'd heard before any advance news of it that Hader would be joining this show, working with Winkler, and that Alec Berg (known for his contributions to Seinfeld, Silicon Valley and Curb Your Enthusiasm) was the co-creator/showrunner. At the time it sounded like a good show but wasn't sure what to expect of it when it aired. Now having seen it a couple of times now, I was really impressed with how well done the show was. The ensemble is good, Hader and Winkler are excellent in their own stories, and the evolution of Barry and execution (npi) by Hader is among the surprises of 2018. I'm guessing we won't see Barry continue until the spring, but this is a perfect chance to catch up to things.
All eight episodes of Barry are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen for your enjoyment. The bad news is having seen the episodes when they aired in high-definition, I had a sad that this lacks a Blu-ray option. The good news is the standard def discs hold up their end of the bargain as much as possible; with deeper than expected black levels and shots of the airstrip showing off greens and browns nicely. Edge enhancement and image noise is not noticeable and the presentation is solid.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for each episode and all sound superb, whether it's Charles Bradley's funky "Change for the World" or John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," all sound balanced and dynamic. Dialogue is consistent and the moments of gunfire possess enough of a low-end oomph for a whiff of subwoofer engagement or two. It very much replicates the sonic experience of the broadcast seamlessly.
"Inside the Episode" is a 2-3 minute piece at the end of each of the episodes, totaling 20:51, where Hader and Berg talk about the production, occasional writing challenges, and raves about the cast or crew. Mostly they talk about what happened in the episode and are quick tidbits. "The World of Barry" (3:41) is a preview or EPK of sorts on the show, with more interviews from the rest of the cast. Oh, there is a code for digital copies of the show for iTunes and Ultraviolet users.
Were I asked to create a list of the best television I've managed to see in 2018, Barry would surely be on the list, for the laughs, emotion and performance by its star. Technically it's fine and the extras are about what you'd expect for a DVD release in 2018 I guess. Nevertheless, you should definitely see Barry to find out why it earned the praise it has, or see it again if you need some good laughs in your life.