Review: Barry 1×1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

A low-rent Grosse Point Blanke

Barry

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Thursdays, 10.45pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts April 19

For some reason, people think hitmen are comedy gold. Maybe it’s the idea of transgression or the juxtaposition of life and death, humour being an outlet for existential angst. Maybe it’s just that watching someone get shot in the head is really funny.

But there are a surprising number of comedic shows and movies that feature hitmen as their protagonists, notably Get Shorty on both TV and in the cinema, but also including Grosse Pointe Blank, The Whole Nine Yards, Prizzi’s Honor, Mr & Mrs Smith, and more.

Barry

Now we have Barry, which follows a somewhat similar path to both Get Shorty and Grosse Point Blank. It sees the show’s co-creator and director Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) playing a former marine – the eponymous Barry – who, stuck for a job on his return from Afghanistan, ends up working as a minor league hitman for Stephen Root (Dodgeball, Office Space). While that temporarily gives him a reason for his existence, he begins to wonder what life’s for and whether killing is really a great way to be employed. The pay isn’t even that great.

Then Root sends him to LA to kill someone for some dodgy Eastern Europeans. There he bumps into actress Sarah Goldberg (Hindsight) and ends up not only falling for her, but going to her acting class, where Henry Winkler (Happy Days) does his level best to get decent performances out of everyone – including Hader. Before you know it, Hader’s fallen in love with acting as well and is thinking about a career change.

Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in HBO's Barry
Bill Hader and Sarah Goldberg in HBO’s Barry

Not a hit

And that’s basically it. True, it’s only a half-hour show, but that’s really all that happens in the first episode. So much for plot, hey?

The $64,000 question, though, is is it funny? For my money, it’s a quick no. Despite the 84% approval rating it gets on Metacritic, Barry seemed like a low rent Grosse Pointe Blank to me, dealing with all the same issues but without even 10% of the wit, dialogue or charm. On the plus side of the scales, it does have some funny things to say about acting and it does have some halfway decent shootouts. But again, you might as well just watch Grosse Pointe Blank.

Henry Winkler in HBO's Barry
Henry Winkler in HBO’s Barry

Conclusion

This is a weak, derivative start to Barry. Hader and Winkler are both fine, but nothing exceptional, and Root is constantly teasing that there’ll be a laugh, but never manages to give full release. Given how brief the pilot is, I’m prepared to give the second episode a go at least, particularly since a quick glance down the cast list for future episodes reveals there are a whole bunch of plot developments that might make the show interesting.

But Barry needs an urgent shot in the arm of something invigorating if it’s to last more than those couple of episodes in the TMINE viewing queue.