Why HBO’s ‘Barry’ is the best show on TV right now
Barry, the dramedy-thriller created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg, is one of the most ambitious shows on HBO. Pitched by Hader as “Travis Bickle meets the characters from Waiting for Guffman”, the show follows Barry Berkman (Hader) a hitman who kills “bad people” for Fuches (Stephen Root). Halfway through the pilot, Barry accidentally winds up in an acting class, which he loves – despite being abjectly terrible at it.
Unlike Showtime’s Dexter, which mined comedy and drama out of the mental gymnastics Dexter had to do to justify himself, Barry rarely shows the same self-awareness. He needed purpose, and Fuches gave him a purpose. The sequences with Barry’s crush Sally (Sarah Goldberg) and mentor Gene (Henry Winkler) navigating the LA theater scene are as realistic as they are comically absurd – and heightened by the killer hiding in plain sight.
You could teach a writing course based solely on how Hader, Berg, and co. pace this show. A recurring visual motif for the show is placing a character in the foreground while something pivotal (often violent) takes place in the background.
This is a well-worn technique of dark comedies, but Barry is perfectly suited to this kind of gag. In episode 2, Hader & Berg demonstrate this by having Barry talk to Sally about an upcoming scene, while the Chechen Mafia breaks into his apartment in the background – not only is this funny, but it allows both threads of the storyline to develop simultaneously, making full use of each half hour.
Absolute Tonal Control
What really makes Barry soar is its complete understanding of its comedy and its drama. The action scenes are tense, and the characters absolutely feel in danger, but the comedy is unaffected by the darkness that surrounds it.