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This series, created by Alec Berg and Bill Hader, had quite an original premise on paper, focusing on disillusioned hitman named Barry (Hader) who makes a drastic career change by becoming an actor after inadvertently attending an acting class taught by the renowned and eccentric Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler). So how does this work as a comedy? One of the biggest problems with the series was its inability to find the right tone after a good first episode. This, along with a short season consisting of 8 episodes, didn’t quite help but once it finally did near the end, it showed potential for greatness.
The clashing of tones coincided with where the story was going. Barry was trapped between two lives while the series was stuck between two different tones that didn’t quite fit together for the longest time which became tiresome to watch. Barry had to choose between his current life as a hitman, working with his handler Fuches (Stephen Root), and the life he aspires to have as an actor in Los Angeles. There were some good aspects to the hitman storyline such as the obvious dark humor and the chemistry between Barry and Fuches, however, the acting storyline was the better of the two.
One of the reasons Barry kept going to the acting class was a woman named Sally (Sarah Goldberg). He had feelings for her as soon as he saw her and they became friends before later becoming romantically involved. All the students in Cousineau’s acting class were friends. What was funny about this was that none of them were any good at acting, especially Barry. While these other actors could easily have been caricatures, they were people with hopes and dreams, just like Barry. They were fun to watch so it would have been nice to see them get more focus than they did here. The reason why the first episode was good was that the commentary on making it in Hollywood as an actor through Barry’s fish out of water perspective, however, the rest of the season went away from this for the most part.
While Barry was attending classes and getting closer to Sally, he was trying to leave his former life but that would prove to be easier said than done. The reason why he was in Los Angeles in the first place was to perform a hit for Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) and his right-hand man, NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan), and the Chechen mob. This led Barry to the acting class. Suffice it to say that things did not go according to plan from there, getting the attention of Detective Moss (Paula Newsome) and Detective Loach (John Pirruccello). Despite this, Barry still had to work for the Chechens in order for them to leave him alone. The Chechens were mostly weird accents than anything else while adding next to nothing to the series.
The season was at its best whenever it focused on Barry and his inner struggle. While it didn’t always work as a comedy, it was always compelling to watch thanks to Hader’s great performance as Barry. It wasn’t his fault but the conflicting tones didn’t allow for a deep exploration into his struggle for the most part though the last few episodes of the season began to right the ship in that regard. Everyone else was good, however, the MVP of the season had to be Winkler as Cousineau. He was consistently funny as a flamboyant acting teacher who was either an acting genius or a terrible acting teacher. His committed performance made it difficult to tell which was the case. Hopefully we will get more of him next season.
Overall, this was a decent yet inconsistent season that finally showed what it could be by finding the right tone by the end. Despite this, it still had plenty of hilarious moments throughout and was always compelling to watch thanks to a great performances from Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. Hopefully, it will find the right balance next season.