Barry Berkman (Bill Hader), a former marine and current assassin-for-hire fresh off of killing some hitmen employed to murder him, sits down in the red leather booth of a Los Angeles diner. He asks the waitress for whiskey, but settles for herbal tea and questions what she has tucked under her arm. She’s an actress, she tells Barry, and it’s a script for an upcoming audition.
“Oh,” says Barry in a matter-of-fact tone. “So am I.”
Barry, a pitch-black dark comedy from writer/director/star Bill Hader, premiered March 25 on HBO. Four episodes into its debut season, the show is a biting tale of self-discovery centered around a drifter of a hitman with the itch to attempt the world’s most visible profession.
Monroe Fuches (Stephen Root), a toned-down John Goodman in Big Lebowski and Barry’s pseudo-uncle who introduced him to paid killing, sends him to Los Angeles after being hired to kill a personal trainer having an affair with the wife of a Chechen mob boss named Goran (Glenn Fleshler). Along with Goran’s partner, the hairless and goofy yet savage NoHo Hank (a reference to the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles in which the show takes place), the Chechens provide the majority of comic relief.
“When I was a kid I saw him once walking out the discotheque,” says NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) while describing the Chechen assassin being sent as reinforcement who apparently has the aim of Randy Johnson. “He flicked cigarette at bird, knocked it out of sky.”
While doing recon on Ryan (Tyler Jacob Moore), the personal trainer who he’s employed to kill, Barry stumbles into the acting class being taken by his target. Led by the beautifully stereotypical acting coach Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), the class becomes the show’s catalyst as Barry finds a passion for the stage.
As Ryan endears himself to Barry, who tells the class his last name is Block, the latter is forced to grapple with the reality of his own occupation. He justifies his lifestyle by saying he only takes out bad guys, but Ryan, engaging and friendly, seems less like a menace to society and more like a guy having sex with the wrong person’s wife. Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), a classmate and struggling actress with the look of a young Holly Flax of The Office, serves as Barry’s developing love interest. Cousineau, powered by a brilliant performance by Winkler — reminiscent of his role in Arrested Development — joins the Chechens as a main source of the show’s humor.
“You’re already here, give me just a little more time,” says Cousineau while at dinner with the female detective investigating Ryan’s murder. “If that Chicken á la King isn’t the best piece of poultry you’ve ever had in your mouth you can kick me right in the genitals.”
The show’s fourth episode, which aired on April 15, finds Sally making a Facebook profile page for Barry. Nonchalantly and without a hint of intended irony, she explains the value of the social media platform and presents the principal conflict surrounding Barry’s attempt to simply be normal.
“You can find anyone on Facebook now, that’s why it’s great that you’re on it,” says Sally before asking a question that she doesn’t know is rhetorical. “You know, you want people to be able to find you, right?”