Simple Premise of HBO's 'Barry': Hit Man Goes To Acting School

HBO's new comedy “Barry” works correctly right from the get-go for a very simple reason: Its premise.

This is one of those ideas that when you hear it for the first time, you think: Yes, barring everything that can go wrong in the development of a TV series, this one, if done the right way, cannot miss.

It is like another past HBO series that became the most legendary in the premium channel's entire history: “The Sopranos.” That show's premise: Mob boss goes to see a shrink. The rest was history.

For “Barry,” the premise is: Hit man enrolls in acting classes. From this simple description springs Season One of “Barry,” which premieres Sunday night on HBO.

Bill Hader plays the title character. He is also executive producer of the show, co-creator and the director of the first episode (and possibly others). He has done a fine job.



As Barry, Hader is almost utterly impassive. He is a cipher -- a solitary ghost who passes through the world unnoticed. We know little about him, except that he is an army veteran who fought in Afghanistan. He developed killing skills that led him to his current profession.

He is a man completely unable to open himself up to others or share his true feelings. His job makes him depressed.

When he stumbles accidentally into an acting class, he discovers a group of people who are trying to get in touch with their innermost feelings. Their work appeals to him.

Like Tony Soprano, Barry faces the challenge of juggling his two worlds -- his profession, and his newfound community of fellow acting hopefuls. The show's send-up of the latter is especially acute and poignant.

The pomposity of acting, particularly of the study of acting and its teachers, is also deftly skewered. This pomposity is embodied in the acting school's proprietor and sole instructor played by Henry Winkler.

“Barry” is no lighthearted comedy. Given the title character's occupation, there is considerable violence, particularly when Barry and his boss and handler (played by Stephen Root) have a misunderstanding with Chechen mobsters in L.A.

The lines given to the mobsters are particularly well-written. For that matter, one of the most stellar qualities of “Barry” is its writing -- a rarity indeed for a TV show.

At HBO, “Barry” proudly takes its place among the best of the network's current comedies, including “Silicon Valley” and “Crashing.”

Or to put it another way, “Barry” is a hit, man.

“Barry” premieres Sunday (March 25) at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.

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