Whenever I see Bill Hader, Alec Berg, and HBO, I watch.
Synopsis: Barry is a disillusioned hitman from the Midwest. His handler, Fuches, sends him to LA to execute a hit for the Chechen mob, led by Goran Pazar and his right-hand man, NoHo Hank. Barry’s target: an aspiring actor who is having an affair with Pazar’s wife. Barry follows his “mark” into an acting class taught by beloved teacher/guru Gene Cousineau, and is instantly drawn to the group of students, especially Sally. Barry wants to start a new life in the class, but the criminal world won’t let him walk away so easily. (HBO)
Writers: Alec Berg and Bill Hader
Director: Bill Hader
Running Time: 30mins
Airs: Sundays at 10:30pm on HBO Canada (Canada)/HBO (United States) starting March 25th
On paper, the premise of the series is admittedly silly but it sort of works. As the title suggests, the series is about a hitman named Barry (Bill Hader) who catches the acting bug and dreams of becoming an actor. Barry was burnt out and depressed but he was given another assignment by his handler Fuches (Stephen Root), sending him to LA to perform a hit for Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) and his right-hand man, NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), and the Chechen mob.
While following his latest mark, Barry stumbles onto an acting class taught by the eccentric Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). That one class made him realize that acting may be his true purpose in life but of course his current life would have something to say about it. Barry also became friends with the other students in Cousineau’s class while being especially interested in a woman named Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg).
The other acting students were the prototypical dreamers which only further triggered Barry’s sense of wonder. They may not have been the best actors but they were allowed to have some dignity and weren’t used as punchlines. Instead, the episode used their stories as struggling actors for comedic effect. Barry wasn’t a great actor by any means but the series has just scratched the surface with him as he believes he has potential as do Cousineau and the other students for whatever reason.
Whether or not Barry actually improves as an actor remains to be seen but he can’t be any worse. Hader delivers a strong performance here as Barry, nailing his bad acting ability, to his inner conflict, to his ambition and subsequent sense of wonder. He was a surprisingly complex character so it will be exciting to see where he goes. Winkler stole many scenes in a different role as the eccentric Cousineau. Cousineau had his own methods to get the most out of his students, however, it isn’t always clear if he’s being serious or not. This was the best part about him and was funny to watch more often than not.
Overall, this was a promising first episode that helped set up the story and the characters. The premise may be a silly one but Hader, as the likable Barry, keeps it compelling to watch in what was a slightly different “fish out of water” story. While he hasn’t quite fallen off the rails just yet, it will be interesting to see how Barry balances his two lives while also growing as a character.